Bridge closures, aging drinking water systems and severe weather events have threatened the state’s infrastructure

JACKSON, Miss. — Today, the Mississippi Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2020 Report Card for Mississippi’s Infrastructure, giving 12 categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a ‘D+.’ Graded categories include aviation (C), bridges (D-), dams (D), drinking water (D), energy (C), inland waterways (D), levees (D), ports (B-), rails (B-), roads (D-), solid waste (C) and wastewater (D+).

“Strong infrastructure is critical to supporting jobs and economic development, but unfortunately investment has not kept pace with demand,” said Senator Wicker (D-MS). “Although Mississippi has made good progress over the past several years, there is still much more to be done to bring our roads, bridges, water systems and flood control infrastructure up to date. It will take a strong effort from every level of government to ensure that these projects continue to receive the resources and attention they deserve.”

Much of Mississippi’s infrastructure is aging and beyond its useful life, which impacts quality of life and suppresses economic growth for Mississippi residents. Of Mississippi’s 17,072 bridges (D-), more than 400 timber pile bridges have been closed to the public since 2018 due to the FHWA deeming structures unsafe and being insufficiently inspected—impacting almost every county in the state. The bridge closures have affected routes for emergency vehicles, school buses and commuters. In 2018, 1,603 of the 1,702 bridges (9.4%)– were structurally deficient, which is more than the 7.6% of bridges nationwide that were identified as structurally deficient the same year.

Along with bridges, roads received the lowest grade (D-) in the report. Nearly 40% of major urban road miles in the state are in poor condition – which is double the national rate. The average motorist in Mississippi spends $820 in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs due to poor condition of roads. In addition, the state’s fatality rate in 2018 was one the highest in the nation.

“Our infrastructure has faced numerous unprecedented challenges such has hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods – yet when Mississippians are faced with a challenge, we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and we face that challenge,” said Jacob Forrester, P.E., Chair, 2020 Report Card for Mississippi’s Infrastructure. “If we want to continue our long-standing tradition of hospitality and ensure good-paying jobs, we must focus on modernizing our roads, bridges, drinking water systems, airports and ports and more.”

Water systems and water resources are other significant concerns in the state. Mississippi has over 900 miles of concrete and earthen levees that protect approximately four million people and $21.8 billion in property. Nearly half of the state’s levee systems are rated unacceptable, meaning the condition of the system may prevent it from performing as intended—or a serious deficiency has gone unaddressed. In addition, none of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Mississippi levees are in acceptable condition under USACE’s standards and little to no information is available on the condition of non-USACE levees. Aging drinking water systems (D) are losing as much as 30-50% of their treated water to leaks and breaks. The high leakage rates and water main breaks are mostly due to the aging pipes of legacy water systems in the state. Some pipes were laid as early as the 1920s, while other water systems consist of pipes that were laid from the 1940s to 1980s. Many of these networks have aged past their useful life span.

There were some bright spots in the report, particularly related to freight networks. Mississippi’s ports, one of the highest graded categories (B-), support over 125,700 jobs and nearly $5.4 billion in income, while generating nearly $17 billion in economic stimulus annually. Due to new investments and upgrades at the three largest ports – Gulfport, Pascagoula and Bienville – following Hurricane Katrina, all three ports are in good condition and have enough capacity to meet their current needs.  Mississippi’s rails (B-) are also in fairly good condition. Within the past 10 years, the total railroad-related incidents in Mississippi have been reduced by half. Additionally, the state’s rail system is fairly resilient. They also have sufficient capacity to support higher level of train operations.

The aviation (C) industry employs over 20,000 people with a total payroll of $721 million and a total economic output of $2.5 million; however, aeronautical revenues only account for a small portion of operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, as the industry relies heavily on federal and local government funding.  Additionally, Mississippi’s Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) has remained flat for the past 17 years and, as the number of enplaned passengers has declined, the available funds from the PFC has also decreased, leaving necessary O&M underfunded, which threatens economic growth.

Recommendations to raise the grades include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Establish a grant program for 21st century technical career training in the drinking water and wastewater sectors that retains Mississippi’s talent and mainstreams tools for data-driven decision-making, such as asset management software, life-cycle cost analysis and affordable rate structuring.
  • Ensure that infrastructure investment is strategically focused on efforts that maximize good-paying jobs, promote the state’s economic competitiveness and enhance usability so that all Mississippians continue to be proud to call our state home.
  • Design, operate, maintain and expand infrastructure using consensus-based codes, specifications and standards that reduce the potential loss of jobs, economic opportunity and critical natural resources, in accordance with federal leadership. Under President Trump’s Administration, FEMA and other federal agencies have begun to pivot toward mitigation measures to ensure better use of taxpayer dollars, which is a strategy Mississippi should also employ.
  • Develop and disseminate a comprehensive education campaign on the true costs and savings associated with investment in critical infrastructure around the state through publicly accessible channels and platforms such as Mississippi Public Broadcasting and social media forums.

The Report Card was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Mississippi’s infrastructure network. ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of ‘D+’ in 2017.

A full copy of the Report Card for Mississippi’s Infrastructure is available at www.InfrastructureReportCard.org/Mississippi. 

ABOUT THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS

Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America’s oldest national engineering society. ASCE works to raise awareness of the need to maintain and modernize the nation’s infrastructure using sustainable and resilient practices, advocates for increasing and optimizing investment in infrastructure, and improve engineering knowledge and competency. For more information, visit www.asce.org or www.infrastructurereportcard.org and follow us on Twitter, @ASCETweets and @ASCEGovRel.

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