Simmons talks on infrastructure funding
by Paisley Boston
May 15, 2014 | 1088 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sen. Willie Simmons said the main issue with poor infrastructure is funding.

According to Simmons revenue generated for the transportation system is just not adequate and lawmakers are going to have to look for other alternatives for funding. "This is something that our citizens and local officials must get involved in to make our state officials and federal officials aware of the urgency. It does not matter what the price of gas is the Federal Highway Trust Fund only receives 18 cents per gallon," said Simmons.

The funds generated from fuel tax are used to maintain, repair or replace transportation infrastructure.

"We have an outdated system, we rely on fuel tax. This is the only way and the only funds that we have available to fund our overall transportation system," added Simmons.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gas tax has not been increased since 1993.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce believes that a moderate increase in the gas tax phased in over time would provide the necessary funding, preserve the important “user pays” principle, and provide needed stability.

"In the past we have done a good job at building highways and bridges. The problem that we are currently facing is the fact that we do not have adequate funding to maintain, rehab or replace those bridges and keep our highways and roads at the level at which they need to be maintained for safety," added Simmons.

He said lawmakers held a committee meeting in 2013 to come up with solutions for matters of infrastructure.

"We did come up with a few suggestions for recommendations that were both at the state and local level. We were not able to come up with an adequate process as far as ways and means as to how we would raise the money needed to maintain the situation," he said.

"Poor infrastructure affects everything because if you don’t have good safe highways and bridges, it can cause local communities money to have to go around a bad bridge that may be closed. It also puts our students at risk," continued Simmons.

"It also creates an economic development problem because you may have companies that are located on roads that are in bad conditions. This could cause a company to a great deal of hardship and they may be forced to relocate," he added.

Simmons said poor infrastructure could potentially affect industrial growth.

"Companies may decide not to place their business in a particular state or area due to poor infrastructure. Highways and bridges are very important and when you look at the holistic transportation system, it becomes very important. Transportation is a key component to any successful community or business," he said.

Simmons said the key to finding solutions for road, bridge and sewer system infrastructure is to have community involvement.

"Local communities who utilize highways, roads and bridges are going to have to get involved so that state and federal officials will feel comfortable with generating new ways and means of generating revenue to fund the infrastructure and transportation system," he added.

"We have identified 2,000 bridges that are in need of repair throughout the state. The only way that we can repair them is that resources are provided. I am hoping that we are able to get funding before a disaster happens," said Simmons.

Although there is a need for more funding, Simmons said he is proud of some the recent improvements to transportation infrastructure.

"I am so happy that the Port of Rosedale is being improved. We have a very good port and the board commission is attempting to grow it. We have the only port in the state that does not have rails and four-lane highway access. Our port lacks these resources; therefore, it puts us at an disadvantage when it comes to potential industry," he added.

Simmons said he also pleased with the 2014 legislative session.

"We increased the funding for the Department of Transportation. It was increased from $904 million to $927 million which was a small amount but it will help us tremendously," he added.

Simmons said lawmaker appropriated $20 million for the bridge program and escalated state aid funding from $20 million to $40 million.

"We also added another $32 million providing that the economy continues to grow. This money will come to counties like Bolivar and Washington. This money could be utilized for maintaining, repairing or replacing roads and bridges," he continued.

"We put $10 million into the highway infrastructure program for economic development. In all we put about $105 million in new money into highways and bridges this past legislation session," said Simmons.