HATTIESBURG, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Department of Transportation is facing a funding "crisis" with public safety at stake. That was the message delivered Thursday morning by Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King.
He laid out his concerns at a news conference in Hattiesburg. King talked about the lack of money for MDOT while standing near large maps of "underfunded" highway and bridge projects.
He said growth and economic development are being hampered, but the overriding concern is public safety.
"As road conditions continue to decrease, the safety risk to the traveling public will only increase. If we want to save the state's transportation system, action must be taken today," said King.
Projects in jeopardy along the coast include the repaving of Hwy. 90, along with the widening of Hwy. 57 near Vancleave.
According to MDOT, 58 unfunded projects are right here in South Mississippi: 13 in Pearl River County, 12 in George County, 12 in Stone County, eight in Jackson County, seven in Hancock County, and six in Harrison County.
"We have some bridges on U.S. 49 just south of Hattiesburg right now that we're in the process of reconstructing those. Those have timber elements on them, or wooden pilings, that have been down since the 1930s. We have several structures in the state that need work done on them, and I've got several more, but I do not have the funds to program those projects," said Kelly Castleberry, an MDOT district engineer.
"As you see on this map, especially in South Mississippi, you see all the areas that need to be repaired or replaced and bridges that need to be repaired, too. So, again, I keep saying crisis, and that's what we're in," said King.
Because of the current lack of funding, there's only one new road project underway in all of Mississippi. That is in north Mississippi. Everything else that you see is either repair or replacement.
"The state needs to invest another $400 million a year to transportation to fund over 500 projects throughout the state," said King.
More than 200 of those projects are in South Mississippi.
King supports raising the fuel tax to create the additional revenue. The gas tax hasn't been adjusted in 30 years. State lawmakers approved that tax in 1987 to fund a massive road building program, but such a tax hike won't likely sit well with many legislators.