BRIDGES: Miss. county engineer suggests many wood bridges in state to close

Aug. 25, 2017

Remarks were predicated on a warning to legislators regarding a stiffened federal bridge inspection program

In testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee, Mississippi County Engineer Jeff Dungan indicated that federal inspectors are presently targeting more than 2,000 county bridges that have wood supports, and that a likely result of this attention would be the closure of hundreds of such bridges throughout the state within the next two years.

Dungan said inspectors closed 64 of the first 120 bridges they examined, although he also said some of those have since been repaired and reopened.

Some Republicans predictably bristled at what they say as federal interference, saying county engineers who are allowing bridges to stay open are simply doing their jobs. State Sen. Billy Hudson (R. – Hattiesburg) asked whether the Mississippi Department of Transportation had called in federal officials. Transportation Department Executive Director Melinda McGrath preempted Dungan’s response, saying the Federal Highway Administration initiated the move.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation has said it needs another $526 million a year to prevent deterioration of state highways and bridges. The Mississippi Economic Council last year proposed raising an additional $375 million per year.

Democrats provided a proposal that would raise $358 million in taxes, including a 7-cent-per-gal increase in fuel taxes that would raise $164 million a year, plus $80 million a year from a state lottery and $58 million a year from increased cigarette taxes.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, however, continues to stake out a no-new-taxes position, emphasizing efficiency in roadbuilding.

"Lt. Gov. Reeves believes we should direct more money to maintenance and repairs, and he believes we can do so without raising the gas tax and without implementing an illegal tax on Internet sales," Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp said in a statement this week.

Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory and some other Democrats last year proposed repealing $415 million in tax cuts that are being phased in over 12 years. That includes eliminating the state's $260 million-a-year franchise tax on business capital, a long-held goal of business groups. Bryan on Thursday criticized interim Mississippi Economic Council President Scott Waller for the group's support of tax cuts.

"It seems to me that what MEC is really supporting is shifting taxation from the wealthy to the working folks, and highways are just misdirection," Bryan said.