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An appeal for highways

By By Trent Lott / u.s. senator
April 4, 2004
During the last four years Mississippi's congressional delegation has convinced Washington to fund 77 major transportation projects in Mississippi totaling almost $400 million. That's success by any standard.
But I'm concerned that if the Mississippi Legislature doesn't give a high priority to committing state matching funds to those federal dollars we're fighting so hard for, Mississippians no longer will be gaining precious road funds, but losing them at the rate of about $60 million annually. That equates to dozens of lost life-saving, job-creating federal transportation initiatives.
Retaining and creating jobs must be the top priority of all Mississippi's elected leaders. Almost all federal funding for our state's transportation needs has a state matching requirement, usually about 20 percent of the project total.
Mississippi soon can expect its federal transportation funding to increase, and with this increase will come more responsibility for the state of Mississippi to provide additional matching funds or risk losing jobs and allowing many roads to remain unsafe.
Wrong signal
When potential employers scout the countryside for new plant locations, they take note of those states which are proactive in their commitment to education, a fair tax structure and transportation needs. If Mississippi loses transportation improvement because we're unwilling to provide matching funds, what kind of signal will this send to business and industry thinking about bringing jobs to our state?
What kind of signal will this send Washington bureaucrats who would just as soon send your federal tax dollars to build tunnels in Boston as they would to upgrade congested roads around Jackson?
And that's exactly what happens if state lawmakers fail to obligate their share toward competitive transportation projects. The federal money goes back to Washington where it can be redistributed to other projects in other states.
Some Mississippi projects which could be affected if federal monies are not matched on the state level include U.S. 49 in Rankin County, the Jackson Airport Connector, the Canal Road Connector in Harrison County, the I-69/Highway 304 expansion in DeSoto County, the Highway 19 expansion between Neshoba and Lauderdale Counties, the Tupelo rail relocation effort, Highway 6 upgrades in Lee County, and I-59 improvements in Laurel all economic development projects essential for job growth, public safety and Mississippi's future.
Focus needed
It's not a question of Mississippi's not having the money. It's a question of prioritizing the money we have and focusing it on a major, job-creation agenda like transportation. Most Mississippians understand we cannot continue living in the economic past, lamenting the loss of low-paying jobs at century-old plants.
The 21st Century economy is evolving, and Mississippi must change with it. New investments from Nissan, Lockheed Martin, Federal Express and Northrop Grumman are examples of exactly what we need, only we need more of them to raise our economy and improve our quality of life. Many parts of our state remain economically stagnant and starved for good jobs.
And there's the issue of safety with many Mississippians wondering when that killer road, bridge or curve will be eliminated.
Improvements to Mississippi's transportation system of interstates, roads and bridges, airports and railroads is a central key to maintaining and growing our economic development. Because of the seniority we have in Washington, our state is poised to realize the best economic potential in our history.
But it's going to take a real federal/state partnership and a real commitment on the part of all of us who are the elected representatives of the people of Mississippi to work together to make transportation our priority. Economic progress in the form of jobs and industry will come to Mississippi when we commit to pay for paving the way for them to reach us.
Sen. Trent Lott can be contacted at 487 Russell Senate Office Building,
Washington, D.C. 20510.