Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Central District Commissioner, Willie Simmons, is soliciting local support for amendments to House Bill 1364, as well as the defeat of Senate Bill 2825.
He said in an email to District 4 Supervisor Mala Brooks, “As commissioner, I regret having to remind us that West Mississippi (the Delta and Southwest), East Central, and other areas have not received equity in the distribution of infrastructure funds in the past. This failure has created barriers to economic development, loss of population and inadequate community development in these areas. As a result, poverty and social disorder have become a way of life.”
Brooks informed the Washington County Board of Supervisors of Simmons’ email at their regular meeting held on Tuesday.
Simmons communicated that if passed, HB 1364 will serve as the State’s infrastructure plan for the future and will ensure the entire state’s infrastructure needs are addressed.
Highlighted in Simmons’ proposed plan is a west freight corridor which will start at the intersection of of Highway 27 and I-55, and go north to I-20 Vicksburg.
“It will continue at the Intersection of Highway 61 and I-20 and go north to Leland. This west freight corridor will provide safety for local citizens and travelers, enhance economic development on the west side of the state, and eliminate many of the inequities that plague these communities,” Simmons illustrated. “This corridor will tie into I-69 and create easy access to four ports on the Mississippi River.”
Brooks implored the BOS to seek the support of HB 1364 from members of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors (MAS) for the reasons Simmons provided.
On SB 2825, she said, “I just can’t support it because for the first time since I’ve been an elected official, going on 17 years now, I’m actually seeing money being put into the Delta and we want to leave that like it is. If, you split up money between municipalities and counties, it’s not a lot, but the county projects that we’re seeing now under the leadership of Commissioner Simmons, it’s making a real difference here in the Delta.”
Also aware of the proposed legislation, BOS president Carl McGee advised his fellow supervisors to be very informed about the proposed bills as the MAS’ support appears to be floating in the direction of SB 2825.
“This senate bill is going to take lottery funds and instead of putting it in MDOT, it’s going to be put into the cities and the counties,” he summarized.
He also advised that the BOS take a look at Commissioner Simmons’ list of priorities for the next few years before they decide what they are going to support.
As outlined in SB 2825, the amendment will “change the annual distribution of the first $80,000,000 from the lottery proceeds fund so that it is paid into the Emergency Road and Bridge Repair fund, instead of being paid into the state highway fund and designate the purpose of monies in the Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund as the repair, reconstruction and maintenance of the roads, streets and highways and the rehabilitation and replacement of the bridges of this state and its counties and municipalities.”
In addition, as Simmons pointed out in his email, SB 2825 proposes that the weight limit for harvest permits be increased from 84,000 lbs to 88,000 pounds and the monetary penalties for violation of those limits be adjusted accordingly beginning July 1, 2023.
Brooks pointed out that Highway 61 is four lanes in virtually every part of the state except Washington County.
“Yes, we will receive money, but when it comes to the big projects that need to be addressed, that little $1.5 million we may get isn’t a lot when it's split among all 82 counties plus the municipalities,” she added. “It sounds good, but it’s not a lot for major projects.”