By Kristen Bentley
It is no secret that Mississippi’s infrastructure is in questionable condition. With roads and bridges deteriorating, it’s hard to deny the neglect of necessary structures in this state.
Even though bills have been proposed to build and repair these places and funding has been given to accomplish this, there is still much to be done. The University of Mississippi Capitol Press Corps sat down with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and attended a legislature meeting to get inside understanding.
It is well documented that Tate Reeves is stubborn about raising taxes for the sake of infrastructure. In an interview with the Jackson Free Press in late 2017, Reeves’ Communications Director Laura Hipp spoke on his behalf.
“Since 2011, the legislature has appropriated more than $7 billion for Mississippi roads and bridges. Lt. Gov. Reeves believes we should direct more money to maintenance and repairs, and he believes we can do so without raising the gas tax and without implementing an illegal tax on internet sales. One initial step is the state must do a better job prioritizing current spending, while targeting inefficiencies in what has become a large bureaucracy,” Hipp said in the article.
In Reeves’ interview with the Ole Miss Mississippi Capitol Press Corps, he shared similar thoughts. When asked why he thought public infrastructure has become such an issue and how he thinks the problem should be solved, he gave a generally broad answer.
“Because public infrastructure is a core function,” he said, “…we have to spend more money on it [public infrastructure].”
While he has been lieutenant governor, he said the state has spent $7.4 billion on roads and bridges.
“It’s not as if we aren’t spending significant resources on roads and bridges,” he said. “It’s just that the Mississippi Economic Council and various other groups believe that we should spend more.”
This was true, as the next day during Mississippi Economic Council Capital Day, Senator Terry Burton shared his thoughts about infrastructure repair.
“I am all about trying to do something about infrastructure needs in this state…” he said. “In cities, infrastructure may mean something different than at the county and state level. It includes what’s beneath the surface of the roads…We’ve got to be smart about it.”
According to records from the Infrastructure Report Card, 28 percent of public roads in Mississippi are categorized as in “poor condition.” Burton said the lack of broadband internet access in some rural areas is also an infrastructure problem. Internet is scarcely available to those in the Delta and other rural areas. It’s a problem that should be seriously addressed.
Burton made some statements the legislature may not agree with, but they seemed to be the only options that would fix the problems.
“You [referring to the MEC officials] can help us address this infrastructure need too, as business people, as private sector,” Burton said. “We need government to do our part … In Mississippi, the need for broadband access in our rural areas is a great need. That is something that the government can’t do alone. We [have to] have partnerships with businesses and industry to get the internet and broadband access to our rural areas.”
Though Lt. Gov. Reeves seemed to try to convince reporters otherwise, Mississippi has a lot of work to do to improve its structure. On average, Mississippi drivers spend an extra $705 annually in repairs and service to their cars due to the roads.
“Delaying these investments only escalates the cost and risks of an aging infrastructure system,” the Infrastructure Report Card reports.
According to data collected by the Jackson Press Corps, in 2017, the Federal Highway Administration closed 64 of 120 bridges they inspected in Mississippi. This number should worry every Mississippian.
Where did the $7.4 billion spent under Reeves’ administration go? Was the infrastructure prior to Reeves in such poor condition that after all of the funding, it still isn’t repaired?
Reeves thinks the environment plays a big role, as does Burton. In his interview, Reeves said rural areas are the specific region in which most infrastructure issues occur. While this may be true, there should be equal maintenance of infrastructure for each region of the state, and not just a few specific, more metropolitan areas of Mississippi.
As Burton said in his final statements during the MEC Capital Day Press Conference: “I hope I can have your support in addressing these issues as well…We have a lot to do this session.”
Hopefully, during this session infrastructure issues will be properly addressed and dealt with.
Kristen Bentley, 19, is a University of Mississippi sophomore. She was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, but has family across the South. She is studying print journalism with a minor in political science. She enjoys spending time with her mom and friends, listening to music, and staying updated about current world and pop culture news. She loves her two dogs, Chewy, an English lab, and Kota, a border collie. If she isn’t in class, you can find her blogging about her big city dreams or sweating it out in hot yoga. After college, she hopes to move to Los Angeles or Atlanta to pursue political column writing for a magazine.