Let’s stop talking about Mississippi’s infrastructure woes and do something about it

Published 10:04 am Friday, April 6, 2018

By Ray Mosby

“I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when…”

—Quoted material by Johnny Cash

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I’ve decided that infrastructure is the new weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.

Sometimes I think it is the word itself — infrastructure. It’s long and awkward-sounding, and perhaps even a mite intimidating to some. Maybe we just ought to say roads and bridges and stuff.

Because all of that — roads and bridges and stuff — is deteriorating, wearing out, sloughing off, falling in. And almost everybody, almost every elected official at every level of government knows that. They all recognize the dangers that represents. They all talk about it all the time.

Thing is, none of them ever seem to quite get around to doing anything to fix any of it.

I think that’s because actually doing something would cost lots of money. Lots and lots of money.

The going price for repairing a road, repairing it right, I mean, is $1 million a mile. A million dollars a mile.

Replacing a bridge? Why even a simple, not too big one is a bargain at a third of that.

Reckon how many miles of road there are in this country? Reckon how many bridges?

And, of course, we haven’t even mentioned all the other ‘stuff” that’s included within the definition of that ugly old word, infrastructure — all the water and sewer systems and the trains, and tracks and stations, all the airports and runways.

Do you know that the Chinese are working on building a rail and train system that would carry passengers across that country at about 200 miles per hour? Think about that the next time you are sitting in a station in a bad part of town trying to hitch a ride on Amtrak.

But Lord, we sure can do some powerful talking when it comes to infrastructure.

Why, President Trump has declared it to be “infrastructure week” about once a month since he took office, I think. Of course, that never has quite managed to truly be anything close to a national focus for any of them, what with all the Russian meddling and cabinet musical chairs and indictments and bimbo eruptions that keep cropping up to change the subject.

I think that’s another strike against any real infrastructure reform. It’s not hard to find something sexier than sewer system seepage or rusting water pipes. Just ask the folks in Flint, Michigan.

And this subject has just become a sick joke in Jackson.

Every year, cities and counties scream for some sort of relief, some source of state money to help with their streets and roads and bridges. The supervisors and their association want it. The Municipal League wants it. Respective engineers and their association want it. Every time a citizen hits a pothole or sees a “bridge closed, detour ahead” sign, he or she wants it.

So, every year there are bills introduced in both the House and Senate and every year the leaderships of both bodies have their own agendas and ambitions and axes to grind that get the way of finding a consensus and nothing gets done and all the boys and girls go home chanting a chorus of “wait until next year.”

Folks are fed up.

Because this isn’t complicated. Truly, outside the politics and the posturing, this really is not complicated.

The answer is to create a new source of state revenue and dedicate it solely — and I mean solely — to repair and maintenance of roads and bridges.

The most obvious and to me equitable source of that revenue would be a new fuel tax (say, 10 or 15 cents a gallon; we can argue over how much) tied to the Consumer Price Index. In other words, a true user fee: the more you drive on the roads and bridges, the more you pay to help keep up the roads and bridges.

Don’t like that one? Fine. Then, let’s have a lottery. After all, it isn’t like Mississippians aren’t gambling and aren’t playing a lottery. They are just going out of state to get their tickets and the money they pay is going into those state coffers, perchance to fix a road or two.

But sooner or later, we are likely to do one or the other. We are simply going to have to do something, because ours is a poor state, chock full of poor cities and counties that are chock full of potholed roadways and failing bridges.

That are, of course, only getting worse.

“But those people keep on movin’
And that’s what tortures me…”

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.