Southaven, Miss., mayor says Highway Trust Fund fix may require higher gas tax

Darren Musselwhite, the mayor of Southaven, Mississippi, said funding the federal Highway Trust Fund, is important and consideration should be given to increasing the federal gas tax.

“If the current gas tax is not adequate to properly fund the [transportation] needs, then a more efficient prioritization of projects should occur or an increase in the gas tax would be necessary to avoid debt,” Musselwhite, a Republican, said in emailed remarks to TI News Daily. 

The fund is due to become insolvent by August if Congress fails to replenish it.

Increasing federal debt or delaying funding solutions in the short term only leads to much larger problems in the long term and are not responsible decisions, Musselwhite said.

“A Highway Trust Fund that is responsibly managed is necessary to meet the needs for transportation infrastructure,” Musselwhite said. Responsible management of the fund would require a detailed analysis of current costs and current revenues to determine if, and how much, of a federal gas tax increase is necessary.

Congress is facing a tight deadline to work on a new federal surface transportation authorization to replace the Highway Trust Fund, which expires on May 31. Some lawmakers and transportation groups are advocating a gas tax increase as a long-term means of funding transportation projects. The gas and diesel taxes that fund the Highway Trust Fund have not been adjusted in more than 20 years.

Southaven, located 14 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee, has a population of 51,000 and a wealth of transportation needs.

The lack of clarity on federal funding of transportation projects has indirectly delayed one of the biggest transportation needs of Southaven and DeSoto counties. Interstate 55, which runs north and south through the entire city, slims from 10 lanes to four just north of the Church Road interchange, near the city’s southern border.

Musselwhite said that location is in the heart of the fastest growing county in the state.

“Traffic stops daily on the interstate and becomes a public safety threat in addition to hampering an otherwise-thriving economic climate,” he said.

Municipalities are drastically affected if proper funding is not in place to maintain infrastructure as federal and state highways are crucial for the transportation needs of citizens and potential economic growth, he added.

“The costs involved with these needs transcend the ability of municipal budgets,” Musselwhite said.

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