Mississippi’s two Republican U.S. senators agree on many issues, but they split on a proposal for the federal government to spend $1 trillion on highways, water systems, broadband expansion and other infrastructure projects.
Sen. Roger Wicker was involved in bipartisan discussions that crafted the bill. He voted for the measure when it passed the Senate last week, saying the federal spending would help Mississippi.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith voted against the bill, saying the price tag is too large.
The proposal awaits consideration in the House.
Wicker said in a statement Thursday that the bill has provisions that will ensure “Mississippi gets a fair shake in competitive transportation grant programs” worth more than $20 billion. He said Mississippi would receive $3.3 billion for roads and highways and $225 million for bridges, and the state could compete for money from $12.5 billion in bridge grants.
“Mississippi residents know these investments are badly needed,” Wicker said.
Mississippi has almost 6,000 miles (9,657 kilometers) of highway in rated in poor condition, and more than 1,000 bridges also in poor condition, Wicker said.
“The investments in roads and bridges in this legislation mean Mississippians will have an easier time dropping off their children at school and shorter commutes to work,” Wicker said. “First responders will also be able to reach those in need more quickly, potentially saving lives.”
Hyde-Smith said in her own news release that proposed infrastructure package would add to the federal deficit and put unfunded requirements on other levels of government and the private sector.
“Many provisions in this sprawling legislation have merit and would help Mississippi, but voting for it is a bridge too far to cross,” Hyde-Smith said. “We need more infrastructure investment, but I am unconvinced this rushed massive, one-shot bill is the best or most fiscally-responsible way to fix roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems and the electrical grid.”
The White House said that based on the traditional state revolving fund formula, Mississippi could expect to receive $429 million over five years “to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.”
Jackson is among the cities with massive water system problems, including aging pipes and sewer lines. Thousands of residents were stranded without water after systems failed during an extended cold snap in February.
The Clarion Ledger examined financial documents that showed the capital city would need to spend more than $800 million to fix the sewer system and wastewater treatment plants. The newspaper said Jackson has not released a cost estimate for repairing its drinking water treatment plants.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba joined other mayors Wednesday in a video call with President Joe Biden. Lumumba and Biden, both Democrats, praised Wicker for supporting the infrastructure bill, and Lumumba said improving Jackson’s water system is imperative.
“This is more than just a matter of convenience,” Lumumba said. “It is a matter of life and what people rely on. It’s how people take their medication. It’s how people, in the midst of a pandemic … take care of their sanitary needs.”
Biden said the infrastructure spending could help cities replace dangerous lead-based water pipes.
A White House statement also said that from 2010 to 2020, Mississippi experienced 33 “extreme weather events” that cost the state up to $10 billion in damages. It said Mississippi could expect to receive $19 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $16 million to protect against cyberattacks, if the infrastructure bill becomes law.