Funding plans necessary step for bridge needs

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In crafting proposals for next year’s budget, state lawmakers at least appear to be keeping supervisors in mind.

     On the same day area supervisors were meeting to identify legislative priorities for the coming session that starts next month, lawmakers were agreeing on the need for more money for road and bridge upkeep in the state.

     The Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s proposal calls for an increase of $20 million for state-aid roads and bridges. It was one of only four budget areas suggested for increases, with most other state agencies facing level funding or reductions.

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     Meeting last Wednesday in Meadville, Southwest Mississippi supervisors, including Lincoln County Board President Nolan Earl Williamson, placed the Local System Bridge Program funding at the top of their priority list. For the first time in years, the program was not funded during the 2012 legislative session and supervisors would like to see a deficit appropriation.

     Whether as a deficit appropriation this year or as additional money next year, talk of funds for bridge repair should come as welcome news for supervisors across the state. And it is especially good news for Lincoln County.

     For years, supervisors have boasted – or lamented depending on the economic conditions of the time – that Lincoln County is among the leaders in road miles and number of bridges in the state. At last count, the county had more than 300 bridges and almost 60 of them were rated as deficient.

     Everyone would like to see those road and bridges kept in best shape possible. Funding, however, has been the biggest hurdle.

     To their credit, Lincoln County supervisors have been most proactive when it comes to utilizing available LSBP funds. In the past, some counties have let their allotment of bridge funds languish.

     Prior to this year’s funding lapse, Lincoln County was getting about $2.5 million out of $80 million over a four-year period. That money certainly doesn’t go as far as supervisors would like, but it saves them from having to ask local taxpayers for the funds – or worse, leave deficient bridge unaddressed with the potential for major accident.

     Economic conditions nationally and statewide remain uncertain and enhanced bridge fund proposals now could give way to other budget needs once the 2013 session convenes. However, that legislative leaders of both chambers and local supervisors are on the same page bodes well for funding chances at this point in time.