Infrastructure includes the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, region, city, or community. It is generally publicly-owned or regulated and often capital-intensive. Roads, airports, ports, railways, and water and sewer systems are all examples of characteristic infrastructure investments. Working as a complex network to address the needs of citizens, industry, and government, infrastructure comprises the backbone of economic development for any area. Without modern, efficient, and capable infrastructure, opportunities for job creation, manufacturing, and services cannot be effectively pursued and cultivated. This is especially true in today’s competitive economic development environment. Often an afterthought in everyday lives, like education and a well-trained workforce, infrastructure is a keystone for prosperity.
At a time when much of the nation is dealing with aging and crumbling infrastructure, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has a unique opportunity. As a byproduct of the natural and man-made disasters of the past several years, the Gulf Coast has funding available for significant infrastructure improvements which greatly exceeds that available through the traditional funding channels. Through potentially available funding from the RESTORE Act, the region has an opportunity to greatly enhance its infrastructure and offset both environmental and economic damages which have impaired the region in recent years. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, funding should be utilized for infrastructure projects which promote sustainable economic development on a local and regional basis and are crucial in achieving the vision established by the GoCoast 2020 Commission.
The GoCoast 2020 Infrastructure Team realized that although it was premature to suggest actual projects, the members distilled the thinking and passion of the entire Gulf Coast community to provide to the Governor and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) the importance of infrastructure to the health of the region and to suggest criteria by which infrastructure projects funded by state specific RESTORE Act funds could be vetted. The team objectives included:
• Establishing a working knowledge of current and on-going infrastructure planning efforts throughout the Gulf Coast Region, including anticipated sources of funding;
• Hosting dialogue to define priority infrastructure needs throughout the Gulf Coast Region
• Developing a priority listing for types of programs and example projects to be considered under the “Infrastructure” umbrella
• Developing ranking criteria for priorities generated under the “Infrastructure” umbrella
• Assembling the aforementioned objectives into a cohesive document complementary to other GoTeam reports
Specifically, the Infrastructure GoTeam outlined three areas of economic development that recommended projects should address:
• Job Creation and/or retention
• Enhancement of existing industries
• Establishing future revenue streams for long-term maintenance and operation of infrastructure developed with RESTORE Act funds
The purpose of focusing on these areas is to recommend projects which promote economic development without burdening cash-strapped government entities with additional infrastructure they cannot afford to maintain or operate. After surviving the nation’s worst natural disaster and the nation’s worst environmental disaster within a five-year period, in addition to the current economic status of the country, municipalities in the region understand the importance of sustainable infrastructure.
There are numerous existing state and federal funding programs which can be leveraged by RESTORE Act funds. An ideal and simple leveraging approach would be to use these dollars as local “match” funds for existing grant and loan programs. For example, the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) provides 80 percent of needed funds for a variety of transportation projects. Many of the local, approved STP projects remain unfunded as local government entities cannot provide the 20 percent match given the status of the Coast’s recovery and current economic conditions. Other approaches could include using these funds in coordination with private funds for projects that are not possible through existing funding mechanisms. A good example would be combining funds with tourism-centric businesses such as gaming and hospitality to promote tourism. These types of businesses, a major economic driver for the region, could realize substantial benefits, leading to new opportunities for job creation and industry enhancement.
It would be nearly impossible to overstate the overlap between infrastructure and the goals established by other GoCoast 2020 teams. As previously stated, infrastructure is the backbone of sustainable economic development as well as vitally important to environmental protection efforts. Without the necessary infrastructure to support the needs of people and businesses, the goals of all the GoTeams cannot be met. For example, improved roadways foster economic development engines such as small businesses and tourism. Improved wastewater treatment facilities lead to improved water quality–an important component to both the Eco-Restoration and Seafood GoTeams.
The series of natural and man-made disasters since 2005 which have affected the Gulf Coast have resulted in numerous major infrastructure planning efforts, in addition to typical and on-going regional planning initiatives. The major ongoing infrastructure planning efforts are listed below. They include a wide variety of funding sources and types of infrastructure projects.
Gulf Regional Planning Commission (GRPC)
GRPC serves as the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the urbanized areas of Gulfport-Biloxi and Pascagoula-Moss Point. The Mississippi Gulf Coast MPO provides a planning process that is used to identify needs and deficiencies in the transportation system and make recommendations for roadway improvements that may be integrated into the Gulf Coast’s Long Range Transportation Plan, Gulf Coast Area Transportation Study, and the Transportation Improvement Program.
Gulf Region Water and Wastewater Plan
The Gulf Region Water and Wastewater Plan identified water, wastewater, and storm water infrastructure needs for long-term growth and recovery in the counties of Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, and Stone. More than $640 million of water and sewer infrastructure is currently under construction or complete throughout the five-county region. Counties and cities are currently pursuing funding for complementary projects to build on to the backbone system that has been developed. This effort is critical for economic development and environmental protection. For example, through this program, thousands of individual on-site septic systems are being replaced with centralized wastewater treatment systems, enhancing the environment, reducing sources of pollution, and protecting groundwater and surface water.
There are also several efforts in various stages of planning that could be beneficial to improving the Coast’s infrastructure:
Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP)
MsCIP is a $1.2 billion comprehensive program for coastal Mississippi consisting of structural, nonstructural, and environmental project elements. These elements are intended to address hurricane and storm damage reduction, salt water intrusion, shoreline erosion, and fish and wildlife preservation. The MsCIP is structured in three phases, the first of which is to address the most urgent storm protection and restoration priorities to include restoration of the barrier islands and other identified interim needs. Phases Two and Three of MsCIP consist of identified potential projects that are recommended for further study and intended for possible implementation over a 30- to 40-year period.
Approximately $550 million of the authorization was funded by the federal government following Hurricane Katrina to address identified Interim Projects and Barrier Island restoration. Thus far, these funds have required no state matching requirements due to the fact that the program is related to emergency recovery. Mississippi DMR hopes to receive the balance of funding (an additional $700 million) over the next two funding cycles with no cost share requirement, though given ongoing budget conditions, funding for the balance of this program remains uncertain.
Latin America Trade and Transportation Study, Mississippi Report, March 2001
The Southeastern Transportation Alliance (the state transportation agencies in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia along with the Federal Highway Administration) prepared a study assessing:
• Trade with Latin America (existing vs. forecasted through 2020)
• Identifying strategic transportation elements (ports, airports, railroads, and highways)
• Identifying investment needs
• Developing investment strategies
The study concluded that in order to meet trade demands in 2020, the following investments would need to be made:
• Ports – total of 707 acres of cargo facilities by 2020 (163 acres at time of study)
• Airports – an additional 305,458 square feet of cargo building area and an additional 54,304 square yards of cargo apron area to serve the additional cargo building
• Railroads – relocation of CSXT main line along the Gulf Coast to north of I-10 with two freight track lines and one Amtrak line. Upgrade KCS track from Gulfport to Hattiesburg to allow double-stack capabilities
• Highways – upgrade capacity of I-10
The study also evaluated intermodal connections among ports, airports, and major highways.
The opportunity presented by the RESTORE Act and other funding sources should be used to continue the types of regional infrastructure approach promoting regionwide sustainable economic development outlined above.
As with all funding opportunities, it is recognized that the needs will far outnumber the available funds. Even though the processes and criteria for funding under the RESTORE Act have yet to be determined, the GoTeam discussed a ranking system to identify criteria that could be used to objectively determine which projects are best suited for funding under these programs. In addition to being eligible under RESTORE Act project guidelines, the criteria may include how well proposed projects protect ecosystems, promote economic development, and have multi-jurisdictional and regional benefits.
Co-Chair Sen. Michael Watson (District 51)
Co-Chair Trudy Fisher, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
Rep. Richard Bennett (District 120)
Commissioner Leonard Bentz, Public Service Commission
Steven Bevilaqua, John Fayard Moving and Warehousing
Wally Carter, Mississippi Gaming Commission
Kevin Coggin, Coast Transit Authority
Mayor Chuck Ingraham, City of Diamondhead
Commissioner Tom King, Mississippi Department of Transportation
Stephen Landry, Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission
Travis Lott, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport
Dane Maxwell, Transportation Compliance Services, USA
Mark McAndrews, Port of Pascagoula
Supervisor John McKay, Jackson County
Jerry St. Pé, retired
Non-governmental Organization Advisors:
Howard Page, Steps Coalition
Noni Debardeleben, Women of the Storm