The deteriorating state of many Mississippi roads and bridges is increasingly a challenge for farmers transporting crops from their fields to the market, says Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Knight, who serves on Governor Phil Bryant’s Roads and Transportation Infrastructure Committee, says he met recently with a Senate task force to discuss the issue and “for me, it was eye-opening.

“More and more of our older roads and bridges are being weight-listed or closed to heavy truck loads, and it’s getting harder and harder to get our crops from the field to the market,” he said at the Farm Bureau’s summer peanut commodity meeting at Hattiesburg.

A 2013 report by Transportation for America, a coalition of groups supporting improvements to U.S transportation infrastructure, lists Mississippi as the 11th worst state in the nation for structurally deficient bridges, with 2,414 bridges ranked in that category, or 14. 2 percent of the 17,053 total bridges in the state. The average age of deficient bridges is 45 years.

An estimated 1.4 million vehicles cross deficient bridges in Mississippi each day, the report says. Almost 800 are classified as functionally obsolete.

The situation is worse for bridges maintained by cities and counties, with over 2,000 of nearly 11,000 such bridges listed as deficient.

The Mississippi legislature is looking at a number of options to try and begin to correct the problem, Knight says.

“The state has had a gasoline tax of 18-1/2 cents per gallon for 20 years or more, and I, like a lot of people, have assumed that with the growing number of vehicles on our highways the money going into the roads and bridges fund is constantly increasing.

“But actually, it’s on a hard slide downward. Vehicles are now much more fuel-efficient, and the amount of money being generated to fix or replace our roads and bridges has drastically declined.”

Four states passed laws last year to increase gasoline or sales taxes to provide additional money for roads and bridges, Knight says.

“Nobody wants more taxes — and our Mississippi Farm Bureau policy book doesn’t support tax increases of any kind right now. I’m not advocating for this, but I think we need to be aware of the situation, and if it’s an issue our farmers feel is worth discussing and that it warrants a change in policy, then please let us know.

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“If we don’t do something to address this problem, it’s just going to continue to worsen, and if we can’t get our our crops from the field to the market we’re all going to be in a world of hurt.

“It’s an issue I think we need to study very thoroughly. If we don’t begin to take steps to improve our state’s infrastructure, then we’ll just pass the problem on to our children and grandchildren.”

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