• 81°

Letter to the editor: Making counties spend more to get less

To the Honorable Thad Cochran, United States senator

RE: Federal Highway Administration mandates bureaucracy and excessive spending, resulting in large unfunded mandates for all Mississippi counties and crippling Mississippi counties’ ability to inspect and repair county-owned bridges.

Dear Sen. Cochran:

While Mississippi counties are struggling to maintain the majority of our state’s infrastructure with failing state and federal support, the Federal Highway Administration has decided that Mississippi counties should be run like Washington, DC, by mandating the reinspection of approximately 2,300 county timber bridges, and requiring the inspections to be completed by independent engineering firms, at a cost of up to $31.5 million. The Mississippi Department of Transportation and Office of State Aid Road Construction (Office of State Aid) have awarded contracts for the FHWA-mandated reinspections, including contracts with engineering firms as far away as New York. Our counties currently inspect each of the 2,300 timber bridges annually using certified engineering firms here in Mississippi at a cost of only $805,000. The Washington, DC way of inspecting county bridges will cost Mississippi taxpayers 39.13 times more than the county inspections. County boards of supervisors have sovereign authority over all locally owned roads and bridges, yet county supervisors had no input regarding these milliondollar contracts that were awarded. Now counties are being mandated to pay for these high-cost reinspections and are being forced to close bridges found to be outside new federal guidelines which have not been shared with our counties.

Every day, Mississippi county supervisors stretch taxpayer dollars to the limit to provide more services with less revenue. Mississippi’s 82 counties receive less than 23 percent of the fuel tax revenue collected statewide and limited federal funding for road and bridge construction and maintenance. Despite the limited funding available, counties maintain the vast majority of our state roads and bridges, over 52,000 road miles and approximately 9,865 bridges across the state.

The Mississippi State Legislature created the Local System Bridge Program in 1994 to provide $20 million each year to counties in support of maintaining local bridges. However, even this relatively small amount of assistance is declining, as state legislators voted to not fund the LSBP during the 2017 legislative session.

Mississippi taxpayers cannot afford this type of excessive spending. The Mississippi Association of Supervisors and our 82 county members call on the Mississippi congressional delegation and state legislators to work together to put a stop to this mandated bureaucracy and excessive spending. This federal decree is a perfect example that Washington, DC, is broken and out of touch. Yes, Mississippi counties need assistance and additional funding to maintain and build the majority of Mississippi’s roads and bridges. Yes, we need to work with our state and federal partners to improve bridge inspections for the safety of all citizens. Yet, the FHWA did not speak to county supervisors about the reinspection mandate, nor has the FHWA explained the new federal inspection guidelines to counties. And most importantly, no federal funds are being used to pay for the federal mandated inspections and no additional federal funds are available to make the necessary bridge repairs. The lack of communication, transparency and efficiency from the FHWA is going to cripple Mississippi counties’ ability to maintain our bridges.

Sincerely,

Derrick Surrette

Executive Director

Mississippi Association of Supervisors