State Lawmakers Want Road Projects Back On Track

Governor Haley Barbour may hold the key to getting many of the state's stalled road projects moving again. Over the past two legislative sessions, the Mississippi Department of Transportation has taken $233 million dollars in cuts. Now lawmakers are appealing to the Governor to help them put MDOT back on track.

After years of talk, it seemed the days of traveling a four-lane Highway 15 were finally near.

"We were moving it towards the front burner," said Wayne Brown, state transportation commissioner for the Southern district.

Then MDOT hit a road block. Budget cuts totaling millions of dollars put road widening and other projects across the state on indefinite hold.

"We're having to rearrange projects," said Brown. "We're having to move some projects out because of the money that was taken. We're trying to do what we can to overcome it and keep our program going."

State lawmakers want to keep road work running smooth with a special session. They've asked the governor to consider signing off on a $100 million dollar bond.

Senator Billy Hewes of Gulfport is chairman of the transportation committee. "We could be in jeopardy of losing federal funds and we're dependent on those to make our projects go. That's number one and number two [is that] the department has been cut to such a degree that we're concerned about the services that are going to be provided."

Hewes also worries about getting roads finished in a reasonable amount of time. With road work on hold, construction companies are cutting back too.

Brown said "Many of the contractors are laying people off. They're short of work and they're laying people off. I talked to one contractor who laid off 100 people so these people out here. These skilled craftsmen who are building roads, we stand a chance of losing those.."

Transportation commissioner Wayne Brown says a 100 million dollar bond would reduce MDOT's budget shortfall from 25 percent to about 14 percent. Meanwhile, Governor Barbour says he's weighing lawmakers' request.