Commissioner talks on energy crisis, highways
By SUE WATSON
Bill Minor, Northern District highway commissioner, addressed the economic crisis centering around high cost of fuel, steel and other materials used in construction at the quarterly meeting of the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce last Thursday.
Representatives Kelvin Buck, Tommy Woods and Jack Gadd and Sen. Bill Stone were unable to attend due to a special session at the capitol in Jackson.
Minor said he has been hearing complaints about the economy.
“Prices are going out of sight is what I’m hearing,” Minor said. “Our economy is bad. Those are problems we have at the highway department, too.”
Reviewing projects on the planning board, Minor said U.S. 78 will not be elevated to interstate status until it is tied in at both ends to interstate highways.
That may be a while due to rerouting of five miles of a portion of Interstate 269 from 78 north of Byhalia to the Coldwater bottom to go around a gravel pit. That five miles will require environmental impact studies and public hearings and will delay the project by seven or eight months. The rerouting became necessary or the highway department would spend millions to purchase the gravel pit, he said.
He expects the eastern portion of U.S. 78 in the area to be brought up to interstate standards first.
U.S. 78 was built to interstate standards but the standards have changed, he said. Standards now require 10 feet of extra shoulder width on the right lane and four feet on the left and bridges now are wider, Minor said.
“We are doing that from New Albany to Tupelo right now,” he said.
Longer approaches are required, too, he said.
The stretch on 78 from Byhalia to Holly Springs is rough and is being repaired by punching out rough spots and replacing with new concrete and the shoulders will be made to new standards.
Highway 269 will be the portion of highway that affects Marshall and DeSoto counties the most, he said.
The highway department is buying up right-of-way now from the Tennessee line to Hernando and will take two years to get the land bought, he said, adding, “the most important road is the one in front of your house.”
Two weeks ago some contracts were let in Jackson that came in 20 percent over engineering estimates, Minor said, harking back to the rising costs of construction.
“Asphalt has gone from $312 to $512 a ton,” he said. “Steel has gone out of sight.”
The cost to construct a mile of highway was $1.5 million to $2 million a mile. Now the same mile costs between $7 million and $8 million, Minor said.
But the highway department budget has not increased, hovering at about $1 billion a year, with much of that money going to lots of other places than building highways, he said.
There is a big concern within industry about the cost of roads and bridges, Minor said.
He would like to see a 10-year federal highway program in the budget so states could manage their programs better.
Some facts or estimates Minor cited included:
• Highway capacity will increase nationwide by only 9 percent by 2043 because of fuel costs. But traffic will increase 135 percent.
• The average worker by 2043 will lose 160 hours a year travelling to and from work because of traffic congestion.
• Roads already built are dipping below the level of standards because of increased cost of repair.
• The 2005 Federal Highway bill has taken back $40 million from the state and will end up taking more than that.
• Communities that lack four-lane highways have a hard time attracting new industry and business. Some industries will not locate anywhere but in communities near interstate highways.
• Toll roads are favored by haulers because they do not have to make frequent stops on those roads and save in costs of gasoline.
• The number of trucks on the highways is expected to double in 10 years.
• Without new funding in two years, the state will not build any more new roads and the state will spend all its highway budget on maintenance.
• The fewer gallons of gasoline that are sold, the less money in taxes are available for highways. Gasoline is taxed at 18 cents per gallon.
• Fifteen percent of highway department budget this year went out the door because of the increased cost one item - gasoline.
• Year before last, construction cost went up 23 percent.
• When Interstate 269 is completed, local communities like Byhalia and Holly Springs will see lots more trucks on the highway, as truckers will opt to take the new highway.
• The North Holly Springs bypass is a project of the city and Marshall County. It is not completed because the project was rebid due to bids exceeding the state cap limit of 10 percent over engineering estimates. The 2008 Legislative session allotted a half million for the paving of the bypass but the rest will come from other sources. MDOT will help if it can, he said.
Minor and the local delegation provided a barbecue lunch for the June meeting.
Executive director Sarah Sawyer thanked the larger industries and businesses for their sponsorship which helps smaller industries as well.
“Membership in the chamber is an investment in the whole area,” she said. The chamber seeks members within a 20-mile radius of Byhalia, she said.
Ronnie Luther expressed gratitude to the Byhalia Lions Club and all volunteers and sponsors who “did a super job” in making the Clydesdale Festival a success. A Gold Tourney in Olive Branch is set to raise more for the Christmas Store, he said.
Upcoming events include:
• Sounds of Summer - July 12 and August 9, in historic downtown Byhalia, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
The event features a street dance, grilled burgers and dogs, a cake walk, sno cones, business exhibits, door prizes, beverage tasting. Volunteers and business sponsors are needed. Call 838-8127.
Proceeds from Sounds of Summer benefit the chamber of commerce.
• Byhalia Lions Club tourney at Cherokee, July 17.
• White Oak Classic golf tourney at Kirkwood, September 18.
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