The process of getting state and federal help to fix roads takes too long

Published 8:17 pm Friday, April 23, 2021

The scope and scale of the damage caused by historic rains in the early part of 2020 cannot be overstated.

In the early months of last year, Warren County was bombarded with one heavy rain after another, leading to historic rain totals, flooding and damage to streets and roads throughout the city and county that in many places remains today.

In recent weeks, city and county leaders have agreed to leverage general obligation bonds to pay for the millions of dollars in repairs needed.

And, while much of the projects will eventually be paid for through reimbursements from state and federal outlets, the work must be done long before the funds are recouped.

In both cases, the city and county have taken a painstaking approach to study and document every potential site of damage, identify every penny that can and will be reimbursed and made sure each “T” is crossed and every “I” dotted.

But the process is slow, far too slow, and that is through no fault of our local officials who have made every call and turned over every leaf.

In one meeting, District 1 Supervisor Ed Herring, colorfully expressing his frustration in the approval processes that are required by state and federal agencies before a project can begin to fix a damaged roadway, “I have been diagnosed with cancer, treated for cancer and cured of cancer in the time it has taken us to get these approvals,” he said.

Just last month, Herring completed his treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was diagnosed with cancer in September of 2020.

The city and county have amazing engineering partners who know and understand the system. They also know how frustratingly slow that system can be.

And the damage was not limited to just county and city roads and streets. The Vicksburg National Military Park continues to show the scars from mudslides and collapsed roads brought about by those heavy rains. Their process of getting those historic areas repaired and reopened to the public has been a harder road — the pun was intended — than city and county officials.

As county engineer Keith O’Keefe said in an attempt to abate understandable frustrations, he constantly reminds those who will listen that these are state and federal dollars that are coming to help and that we must work within the system they have to get those dollars approved.

Agreed, but the system is flawed if we are still 14 months removed from the disasters themselves and many of the projects remain in the approval process with damage repaired by temporary fixes.

Our state and federal leaders need to look at the processes in place and find ways to not only trim the red tape but to remove it altogether. Our city and county leaders have proven very adept at navigating the system, and have great relationships across the board.

If they are unable to get through the quagmire of bureaucratic sludge better than they have, then what hope do those cities and counties who do not have as good of leadership as we do have?

In short, the system needs to be fixed. Let’s just hope they don’t use the same steps they require others to take in fixing themselves or it may never be done.