Gov. Tate Reeves is asking the Mississippi Legislature for $1.3 billion to fund transportation projects for roads and bridges across the state. In a press conference on Thursday, Reeves said the projects would increase competitiveness.
The governor said the proposal focuses on projects that include “widening Mississippi’s highways, pavement, rehabilitation and restoration, and interchange improvements.”
“These projects will make it easier to move products and will make it easier to move people across our state,” he said. “It will help make Mississippi more competitive. It will help commuters. It will entice more businesses to relocate here, and it will make it easier to visit and spend money in our beautiful state.”
Reeves suggested the Legislature could pull the funding from $1.5 billion that is available in the state capital expense fund.
“By funding these projects, Mississippi can send a signal to businesses around the world that our state has dependable, reliable, and safe roads that make it easier for companies to get their products to the market,” he added.
‘More Bang For Our Buck’
Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Brad White welcomed the governor’s legislative proposal in a statement posted on the agency’s website Thursday.
“There is no better use for the one-time money our state currently has than investing in a core function of government—our state’s public infrastructure. I applaud Gov. Tate Reeves and the Legislature for their vigorous support and focus on Mississippi’s transportation system,” he said. “Should the Legislature provide MDOT supplemental dollars again, we will be better equipped to enhance our transportation system on a statewide level from the standpoints of safety, mobility and economic development for both the immediate future and generations to come.”
Under Reeves’ proposal, Mississippi’s northern district would receive $470 million; the southern district would receive $360 million; and the central district would receive $275 million. The governor is requesting $85,245,773 for ongoing projects, to “free up funds, providing MDOT with further flexibility to fund additional infrastructure projects,” the governor’s office said in a press statement released before Thursday’s press conference.
In a statement to the Mississippi Free Press on Friday, Mississippi Department of Transportation Central District Commissioner Willie Simmons said those projects are urgent in light of inflationary trends.
“As we look at where we are with inflation, being able to invest additional dollars and move these projects that are shovel-ready to completion, we’re going to get more bang for our buck because the dollars are going to go much further,” he said. “If we continue to wait, the cost is going to escalate and make it more challenging for us as a commission and state to get the return on investment that we can today.”
In MDOT’s statement, Transportation Commission Chairman Tom King said that “increasing capacity and safety with projects that are nearest shovel-ready is efficient use of one-time funds.”
“This investment will in-turn help encourage economic development and expansion across the state. I look forward to continuing this conversation with our state leaders in the days and weeks to come,” he added.
Reeves Wants $100 Million For Emergency Fund
The Governor said he is asking for an additional $100 million in funding for the State’s emergency road and bridge repair fund, which provides matching grants to counties and municipalities across the state.
Reeves told the Mississippi Free Press that he believes “the program’s going exceptionally well” and “is very well received” on a “bipartisan basis.” The state allocated $100 million to the emergency fund last year, though Senate leaders pushed unsuccessfully for $300 million at the time. The Legislature established the Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund in 2018.
“I spoke to both the municipal league and the Mississippi subsection of supervisors within the last month, and I think it’s fair to say that leaders and members of both our cities, our counties, really, really appreciate that funding from the state,” Reeves added. “It goes a long way towards them taking their local money and leveraging state money to get projects done.”
The governor noted that the Legislature appropriated $50 million for local development authorities last year. He is asking for an additional $100 million this Legislative session.
“[W]e took that 50 million, and we leveraged it with approximately $9 million in Appalachian Regional Commission funding, in which we partner with the federal government on and are announcing a large number of sites across Mississippi,” Reeves said. The governor announced his pick of projects for the money, including $9,803,700 for port improvements.
“And my long-term goal is to constantly have 30 sites of different sizes in different regions of the state that are ready to roll whenever there’s an economic development project,” he said.