MDOT Looks To Innovative Financing For Future - - The News for South Mississippi

MDOT Looks To Innovative Financing For Future

Mississippi is looking at new ways of take care of future transportation needs. At this week's Southern Transportation Finance Conference in Biloxi, MDOT's executive director said the last few years the budget has stayed put at $1 billion. And he says it's not enough to cover all the agency needs to accomplish.

MDOT is using $1.1 billion in federal emergency money to rebuild the bridges and roads Katrina destroyed. However, when it comes to long list of other transportation needs.

MDOT director Butch Brown says the agency must figure out how to fit them into a limited budget.

"The cost of materials is going through the roof," said Brown. "We're up about 30 percent in the cost of our product for the highways."

MDOT has three possible strategies to get more money for roads:

  1. Partner with local governments to secure bonds. 
  2. Develop new toll roads
  3. Increase the state's 18.4 cent/gallon gas tax

"We've got to readjust the fuel tax," said Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown. He says high gas prices have made Mississippi's gas tax collections go flat.

"If we could readjust the fuel tax so that it paid the same amount of money it did in '87 when it was levied then the DOT could keep an aggressive program," said Brown.

A private toll road to parallel Highway 49 in South Mississippi is under consideration now that state lawmakers have passed a bill allowing toll roads.

State Senator and chairman of the finance committee Tommy Robertson said, "I think the people in South Mississippi, especially on the coast would be more than willing to pay a reasonable toll to get something like an I-49 to go from Gulfport all the way to Jackson."

One innovative financing technique that MDOT is already using is HELP or Highway Enhancement Through Local Partnerships.

"Local governments issues the bonds," said Butch Brown. "We do an agreement with that local government, Harrison County for example and we repay the bonds using federal funds we have. We don't have the bonding authority but counties do. "

MDOT executive director Butch Brown says the agency was hurt by a $300 million legislative budget cut a few years back.

The Southern Transportation Finance Conference continues on Thursday.

 by Danielle Thomas

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