Crumbling infrastructure and a lack of will to fix it is posing a safety risk to Jackson drivers and could cost them thousands of dollars a year in repairs, according to a report from a leading nonprofit agency.
The latest report from TRIP, a major transportation research organization, shows that nearly half of the roads in Jackson are in poor condition, while 22 percent of roads across the entire state of Mississippi are structurally deficient. This raises serious concerns about safety on the roads.
A startling find, the organization’s March report ranks Mississippi fourth in the nation in safety hazards, with high fatality rates related to poor street design, shoulder issues, and inadequate road signage. Fatality rates of Mississippi’s non-interstate rural roads are 4.5 times more than that of all other roads in the state.
Additionally, TRIP outlined that the substandard state of the area’s roads and bridges has a major impact on Jacksonians’ pocketbooks, costing them nearly $2,000 a year in car repairs.
Statewide, drivers will spend about $2.25 billion annually on additional vehicle operating costs such as repairs, accelerated vehicle depreciation, tire wear, and increased fuel consumption, according to TRIP.
What This Means for Safe Driving
The number of lanes, lane widths, lighting, lane markings, barriers, rails, and other roadway features directly impact the safety of motorists. And while crashes are often associated with driver behavior — distracted driving, driving under the influence, and reckless driving to name a few — TRIP estimates that these roadway features contribute to one-third of fatal traffic crashes.
Highway improvements and creation of safer roadway features dramatically reduce traffic fatalities, while improving traffic flow and relieving congestion. This also helps to trim the costs that accompany serious crashes like medical and emergency service costs.
The Mississippi Economic Council further highlights why a deteriorating transportation infrastructure poses a critical safety concern not only for individual drivers, but also the network that makes up school districts, law enforcement, fire protection, and health care workers that serve citizens on a daily basis.
For example, a weakened bridge structure and road shut-offs force drivers to take detours, thus increasing the response time for fire trucks, ambulances, and law enforcement personnel. This also deprives people of direct routes during times of evacuation.
The Money Isn’t There
In the face of an ever-growing safety issue, government leaders are split with how to address the problem. Although TRIP estimates that the state needs $6.6 billion to fund repairs and improvements statewide, measures to provide even a chunk of that have failed.
That has drawn the ire of the likes of Jackson mayor Tony Yarber and attorney general Jim Hood, who have expressed concerned about the dire nature of infrastructure in Jackson and statewide.
Despite those concerns, though, state leaders have not been aggressive about addressing the problem. House Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Busby told Jackson Free Press that a Senate budget vote killed a bill proposing an increase of funds for the state’s roads and bridges.
Instead, numerous representatives demanded money-saving efforts at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which says it requires another $526 million annually to repair and prevent further deterioration.
Additionally, Representative Robert Johnson introduced three major amendments to the Taxpayer Pay Raise Act — such as raising the gas tax and eliminating infrastructure exemptions. Some called it the “last chance” the state had to acknowledge its infrastructure needs, but all his amendments failed, news reports said.
Another missed opportunity occurred when a $250 million bond passed in the House appropriated, among other things, funding for two history museums in Jackson but included no money for transportation infrastructure, according to news reports.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane said there were in fact a number of infrastructure projects included in the bond, but that he was forced to compromise with House members and allow money to be spent on projects that distract from the main problem.
“There are a lot of these small projects, if I were king for a day, that I wouldn’t include,” he told the Herald Courier.