Financial jeopardy continues to plague a major highway construction project in Mississippi as transportation officials wait to discuss the issue with the governor.
According to Associated Press reports, discussions on additional funding for the state’s 1987 highway program failed to be included in a special session August 28 announced by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove earlier this week. Musgrove said he plans to meet with transportation officials before the special session instead.
State Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall has been trying to convince Musgrove to include funding issues in the session because of fears that all highway construction would have to be stopped by the end of the year.
Lawmakers are being asked to either cancel or extend a $1.25 billion project to build roads in counties with casinos. State transportation officials said that because authorization expires in 12 years and financing needs to be arranged over 20 years, they have had trouble borrowing money for the projects.
Hall said he hopes lawmakers will allow the department to issue $2 million in bonds to match federal money available for the highway program.
The four-lane road construction project began in 1987 with a prioritized three-phase plan for 1,077 miles of highway being completed by 2001 at a cost of $1.6 billion. In 1994, the Legislature added a fourth phase that tacked on another 619 miles of four-lane at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. In May, transportation officials said the plan will need another nine years to complete.
Higher construction costs, increased traffic and new federal regulations have caused the program's price tag to increase, bringing the total cost of the final phase to an estimated $4.7 billion.
According to transportation officials, money is drying up because of highway changes they’ve made to accommodate heightened truck traffic, which increased by 100 percent between 1989 to 1999. In addition, automobile traffic has increased by 35.7 percent and the population by 7 percent.