Coast Residents Talk About Whether They Get Fair Share of Road Money

The Mississippi legislature is debating a plan that could make it easier for coast road projects to get state funding. The House and the Senate have passed different versions of a plan called Vision 21. It would put funding priority for road construction projects to areas with the most traffic. Talk of four-laning Highway 15 has been circulating for years and some drivers say that's all it's been. Some people say widening the road would make it a good hurricane evacuation route, but they don't expect that to happen.

"Upper state Mississippi [has] all the clout," said Biloxi resident Elmer Joe Havelin. "All the good money comes from down and stays up there and gets spread up in their counties."

Saucier resident Charlotte Randazzo said, "I've never understood how such a heavily populated area as the coast has gotten so few, such a small amount of tax road dollars when the northern part of the state is scarcely populated."

Coast drivers say all you need to do is drive up busy Highway 49 and you'll quickly see why south Mississippi roads need more attention.

"They need to build more roads from the interstate and give people more options to travel you know," said B.J. Harris of Gulfport.

However, Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown says the coast has not been left out when it comes to road funding. Over the past 5 years MDOT has spent 440 million dollars in the Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties.

Brown said, "That's almost 25 percent of the total capital budget for spent by the Department of Transportation. So to say that we're getting left out is not correct."

Some legislators say Vision 21 would take the politics out of road funding and put the money in the roads that need it the most. Widening Highway 15 falls under that plan, but some drivers say they aren't holding their breaths.

Havelin said, "This is the main highway, a north-south highway. It took 30 or 40 years to pave it. Now they want to make a four-lane out of it. Forget it. You'll never see it."

MDOT Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown says his department hasn't been hard hit by budget cuts since it is funded mainly by fuel taxes.