MDOT faces critical worker shortage

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 7:33 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2022 at 7:34 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Millions from the lottery go to repair roads and bridges across the state. So far, the State Highway Fund has received $160 million. The money is a big help to MDOT, but there is a greater problem — the manpower needed to make those improvements.

Officials say they don’t have the workers necessary to design, repair, and maintain the roadways. Lottery dollars are flowing into the state to make improvements, but those funds are only designated for repairs. That money can’t be used to pay employees who do the work and is not covered by the constant flow of lottery funding.

“It’s a crisis. It’s a human infrastructure crisis,” said MDOT District 2 Commissioner Willie Simmons.

The former state senator and transportation commissioner said 32 MDOT engineers have left the agency in the last year, and only 14 have been replaced. The problem is pay. Engineer salaries range from $48,000 to $70,000 a year. Private sector and boarding states offer up to twice the pay.

“That’s the crisis that we are facing with our human infrastructure with the engineers that are leaving,” said Simmons. “We have two engineers that are going to be leaving us at the end of this month in addition to the 32.″

There is also a critical shortage of maintenance technicians who pave, remove debris, and clear roadways. Fifteen vacancies exist alone in the central district. They are on call 24/7 with a starting pay is $9.50 an hour and no overtime, but mandatory comp time.

MDOT Executive Director Brad White is appealing to the legislature.

“It’s not just a problem of losing staff, but it’s also a problem of having the salaries and the things necessary to be able to recruit others,” said White.

The agency’s head told lawmakers that some counties currently have no MDOT workers to respond to road issues.

According to transportation officials, they are the only state agency that has not received any CARES funding, which could help alleviate the salary problems.

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