Highway repairs on track, thanks to federal dollars

Published 8:54 am Friday, October 2, 2015

Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King said the long-awaited four-laning of Highway 11 is on track and the bid process should begin in late 2016 or 2017.

King gave an update of the project at Tuesday’s meeting of the Picayune Rotary Club, and said the project will stay on track so long as federal funding is available.

“Right now, currently, the project is funded but as with any federal project, funding is contingent on federal obligations,” he said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

There has been talk of four-laning Highway 11 from the east end of

the highway bridge over Hobolochitto Creek to the Hide-A-Way Lake entrance for years. King, who is in his first term as transportation commissioner, said he didn’t know when the project was proposed but he said he believed it was 2005, and it’s the federal dollars that are now in place that are making the job a reality. King said that if that federal funding were to fall through, Picyune could be waiting longer still.

“We would want to finish it,” he said. “But and we would have to finish it with state funds but that would take us much, much longer if you do it that way.”

At Rotary, King explained that state transportation dollars are stretched thin because roads and bridges across the state are in need of repair. King explained that in 1987, the state launched some ambitious transportation projects and much of those are now in need of work.

Interviewed later, King explained that the state legislature will need to make some decisions soon about what it can do to beef up its transportation budget.

“There’s been a lot of talk about raising the fuel tax of course, but that has to be done by the legislature,” he said.

Currently the tax is 18.4 cents per gallon.

King said there are other ways of raising the revenue, and the Mississippi Economic Council, a statewide business organization, is prepared to unveil a plan with all options on the table.

“They are coming up (to Jackson) sometime after the election in November with a plan to achieve that goal to where they can gather up more funding for highways,” King said.

He said there are other ways to pay for highways than the fuel tax, but none of them are free.

“I think that all options are on the table. I just can’t tell you (their plan) until I see what they recommend,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you can do. You can go through the initiative referendum like Arkansas did. There’s toll roads and there’s possibly a gasoline fuel tax raise. That’s possible. That’s on the board, you could say.”

The Arkansas initiative was a statewide vote, held in 2005, wherein voters allowed the state to borrow money to pay for highway repairs.

But, even with more funds, the Highway 11 four-laning project is unlikely to go past the bridge. As it stands, the bridge will be replaced, but it will be replaced with a new two-lane bridge that is also pedestrian friendly.

King said he heard initial plans to four-lane Highway 11 beyond the bridge met with resistance. First, he said the cost to buy up right-of-way easements near downtown would have been too costly. And, he added, he has heard that even some residents were opposed to the idea.

“It is my understanding from what I was told, a lot of the citizens did not want it,” he said. “We would have to tear down too many buildings that were of historical value.”