MDOT's Budget Cut Could Slash Jobs

TL Wallace Construction has until June 8th to finish the new Highway 605 bridges in Harrison County. For its employees, finding MDOT road work right after that shouldn't be a problem.

Kelly Castleberry is an MDOT engineer.

"There is a lot of work going on," he said while standing under the newly built overpass. "And we're hiring personnel at this time to fulfill obligations that we're required to do for the state."

A year or two down the line, things could get dicey. The legislature just slashed MDOT's budget. As a result, road projects will likely slow down. Thousands of workers just like Frederick Fairley could be out of work.

"I would have to go try to find me something else to do," he said.

Transportation commissioner Wayne Brown said MDOT's funding restriction won't affect projects already under construction. And it won't hurt projects such as the Canal Road connector to I-10, because it's already part of the Vision 21 program.

However, he said the cuts will delay the Biloxi connector to the interstate, roadwork improvements on Highway 43 in Pearl River County, a five lane project through Picayune, and a Highway 63 widening project in Lucedale.

Contractors will have to adjust their thinking to keep their road crews busy. Carlos Morales is a quality control supervisor for the TL Wallace group.

"We have licenses in Louisiana and Alabama," he said. "And if we have to, we could go over there and work. But we don't want to."

In the short term, that won't be necessary. MDOT engineers said Mississippi still has plenty of road projects under contract that must be finished.

The Senate Transportation Committee chairman is Gulfport Senator Billy Hewes. He called the road funding predicament "a bitter pill to swallow." But he also said MDOT should be able to survive the next two years with less road money.

However, if the funding cuts extend past 2005, Hewes said that would probably cripple future road projects all over Mississippi.