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Mississippi Highway Construction Project in Trouble

August 28, 2000

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Transportation commissioners in Mississippi say highway construction could come to a halt until April 2001 if funding issues are not addressed during the special session scheduled for Monday.

According to Associated Press reports, Commissioner Dick Hall and other leaders have been urging the governor to include the issue in the session, but Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has refused to do so, saying that MDOT may have a problem with accountability. He also suggests there are other ways to solve the funding problems.
Lawmakers are being asked to extend a $1.25 billion project to build roads in counties with casinos. MDOT has had trouble borrowing money for the projects because authorization expires in 12 years and financing must be arranged over 20 years.
"This is a real simple issue. It has now become a distraction because it has not been handled," Hall said. "We need the authority to borrow money on a short-term basis. Businesses do it all the time, and I was surprised when I became commissioner that we couldn't do it."
Musgrove said he doesn't want to get lawmakers involved in the controversy over the department's funding problems.
Transportation commissioners are also asking lawmakers to allow the department to issue $200 million in bonds to match federal money available for a 1987 highway program because if the state doesn’t, the money will be taken away. In May, transportation officials said the road building plan would require an additional nine years to complete.
The four-lane road construction project began with a prioritized three-phase plan for 1,077 miles of highway segments being completed by 2001 at a cost of $1.6 billion. In 1994, a fourth phase was added that tacked on another 619 miles of four-lane at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. The price tag has steadily increased to a total cost of $4.7 million thanks to higher construction costs, increased traffic, and new federal regulations.

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