They’ve been as much a part of summer as cicadas, crabgrass, and mosquitoes — those orange plastic cones that mark highway repairs/resurfacing, causing traffic backups seemingly for miles.
But not this summer.
As paving season melts away like an ice cube in the August sun, in my travels around (mostly) the northern half of Mississippi, I have yet to encounter the first traffic delay because of roadwork. Oh, I suppose there are some projects going on somewhere; I just haven’t run across them.
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Following an especially hard winter, Mississippi highways, for the most part, are in horrible condition. They’re getting worse by the day, and the state doesn’t have the money that’s needed to make even a superficial dent in the deterioration, let alone major rebuilding. Some roads I travel frequently are miles after mile of cracks, potholes, and bucked-up expansion joints. Auto alignment and repair shops should be doing a booming business.
It’s not a condition unique to my state; on occasional forays into neighboring states, the situation is much the same. And reports on nation’s roads and bridges paint a consistently deplorable picture — one that is only getting worse as things get farther behind the curve.
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The federal Highway Trust Fund, which funnels billions of dollars to states for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects, was to expire July 31, but Congress, before leaving town for its summer recess, once again birthed yet another temporary funding measure, $8 billion to extend the program for three months.
It was the 34th time in the last six years that our esteemed lawmakers have, to use the ever-so-trite metaphor, kicked the can down the road. Thirty-four times, in just six years, they’ve failed to knuckle down and do what it takes to develop and pass a long term package that will get this country moving on a program to repair and upgrade our highway system.
The 18-cents per gallon federal gasoline tax hasn’t been increased in nearly 20 years, while road construction costs have gone stratospheric. And with the 2016 presidential election looming — sound bites from members of Congress about “looking forward to working together” on a final bill to the contrary — the likelihood of any meaningful solution is slim.