The Road To Funding
In 2014, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors (MAS) established regional county meetings to bring awareness of the growing concern of the lack of funding to maintain/rebuild local county roads and bridges. The regional meetings brought media, legislators, and county supervisors together to openly discuss the problem and offer possible solutions. The outcome of those meetings led to a strong discussion during the 2014 Legislative Session along with the introduction of Senate Bill 2641 (created a commission to study transportation infrastructure funding). Although Senate Bill 2614 died in conference, the strong discussions helped to secure increased short-term funding for current programs such as the Local Systems Bridge Program and State Aid Road Construction.
The following year (2015), MAS re-launched its grassroots regional county meetings to discuss infrastructure funding. Yet in addition to MAS’s effort, the private sector (Mississippi Economic Council) got involved in the issue and established their own version of regional meetings and also put together a taskforce (Blueprint Mississippi Transportation Infrastructure Task Force) that encompassed both the public and private sector to discuss the poor conditions of not only the locally owned infrastructure but the state owned infrastructure as well. This taskforce produced a repository of information and reports that were discussed with the state legislative leadership. The goal was to continue with the short-term funding (increasing it if possible) but established some form of an effective long-term process to adequately fund the infrastructure needs at the state and local level.
At the beginning of April 2018, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant issued an emergency declaration that ordered more than 100 bridges to be closed. That move came after a letter to Governor Bryant from the acting administrator Brandye Hendrickson of the Federal Highway Administration, which listed bridges that federal inspectors determined to be unsafe. Governor Bryant’s proclamation immediately hit 16 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, and it noted that it would include “other parts of the state” if bridges there were found unsafe. Around mid-April, about 540 bridges out of 10,783 in the Mississippi were closed, according to the Office of State Aid Road Construction.
All these combinations of events eventually led to Governor Phil Bryant calling a special legislative session during the summer of 2018. The outcome of that special session created an array of short-term and long-term assistance for local county infrastructure. Below is a program established through House Bill 1 that was designed to urgently respond to Mississippi's "Emergency Road & Bridge" infrastructure crisis.