JACKSON, Miss. (AP) The federal stimulus package has helped keep some contractors in business, and will give towns in the Mississippi Delta a public service they’ve gone without for decades: paved streets.
Vice President Joe Biden recently applauded Mississippi for obligating more than 86 percent of its stimulus highway funding, nearly $215 million, by a June 29 deadline.
The construction projects will occur throughout the state, but many said the work is especially needed in the Delta, where inadequate infrastructure has contributed to its distinction as one of the poorest regions in the country.
“Our streets are terrible,’’ said Webb Mayor Mary Tucker Croft, whose town of less than 600 is located in Tallahatchie County.
Croft said her streets haven’t been resurfaced in about 30 or 40 years. She said previous efforts to draw federal funding were stymied by a match requirement the town was unable to meet. A resurfacing project will soon be completed after the county got additional funding from the stimulus.
There are 34 stimulus-funded projects approved in the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Delta region, which covers the 2nd Congressional District, according to MDOT data.
The construction ranges from a $2.4 million project on U.S. Highway 49 in Yazoo County to a $5 million project in Leflore County to overlay U.S. Highway 49 East to U.S. Highway 82.
Biden, in a White House news release, said the goal of the stimulus was to provide work for people who had been sidelined by the nation’s recession.
“By delivering on these projects ahead of schedule and under budget, we have been able to do even more than we expected — create more job opportunities more quickly, with more dollars left over to put toward more projects that put people back on the job,’’ Biden said in the statement.
However, it’s not likely the Mississippi Delta projects will create new jobs, said Kelly Greenwood, an engineer for Tallahatchie County.
“No, it’s going to keep some guys already working in work,’’ Greenwood said.
Jerry Steen, owner of J.J. Ferguson, a general state contractor based in Greenwood, said before the stimulus projects, he was preparing to lay off as many as 200 of his 240 employees.
Steen said his company has won contracts on three stimulus-funded projects, including the repaving in Webb. Before the recession, the company was averaging 20 to 25 projects a year, he said.
“We were down to 10 or 12 a year and two or three on the books. We were about to run out of work,’’ Steen said. “The stimulus dollars are allowing us to gear up and go again, especially in our asphalt division.’’