This week, one road crew is tackling a major project in Jackson County. The workers are clearing the shoulders along Highway 63. But since the maintenance team has lost half its staff, it had to scramble to scrape up enough workers.
"We have eight people in Jackson County, plus three floating crews," said Tracy Woods, MDOT Area Superintendent for Jackson, George and Stone Counties. "We have to combine them, floating crews, and some other counties to have enough personnel to complete the job."
"We're shorthanded and it's giving us a problem," said Wayne Brown, Southern District Transportation Commissioner.
Brown says the manpower shortage is a growing problem across South Mississippi.
"In Hancock County, we have eight positions, but we have four employees, " Brown said.
Brown blames the problem on wages that he says are not very competitive, especially after Katrina.
"It's because of primarily of pay," Brown said. "They can go do hurricane relief, repairs and make more money. The construction industry down here is booming. You see signs all over the coast looking for help. We've always had a problem, but it's especially crucial now."
Brown says until the pay goes up and his maintenance jobs are filled, people will have to put up with the messy roadways.
"You'll see a pothole that may stay there a little longer, a downed sign may take a little longer being put back, a little more debris out there on the road," said Brown. "It's those things that really affect how we perceive our highways."
"It's like trying to put a Band-Aid on a cut," said Tracy Woods. "We're just doing what we can with what we have."
Wayne Brown says his maintenance employees currently make a little more than $8.00 an hour. This year, he's asking the State Legislature and Department of Finance to allow him to pay his staff an additional $2,000 to $3,000 a year.