By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS – Associated Press
JACKSON (AP) — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that he did not pressure the Mississippi Department of Transportation to build a $2 million road near his gated neighborhood.
Reeves said Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, who is also an elected Republican, pushed for the proposed frontage road. The short segment would run next to Mississippi Highway 25, also known as Lakeland Drive in the Jackson suburb of Flowood, and would connect two upscale subdivisions to a shopping center.
Department of Transportation executive director Melinda McGrath told the Clarion Ledger in a report published this week that there was “political pressure” from the Legislature to build the road. She said it came from “the Senate side.”
As lieutenant governor, Reeves presides over the Senate.
McGrath, who is appointed and not elected, said much of the communication from the Capitol to her department was verbal. The newspaper reported Reeves’ staff and his neighborhood’s property owners association communicated with the department about the road.
Hall held a news conference Wednesday and said he originally decided to build the frontage road because he thought it might be needed for safety, news outlets reported. After the Clarion Ledger article appeared Tuesday, Hall said the project would be put on hold and evaluated. Hall, who served in the Senate years before Reeves became lieutenant governor, said Wednesday that if the road is not needed for safety, it will not be built.
During a separate news conference hours later at the Capitol, Reeves said Hall had accepted responsibility for the original decision to build the frontage road.
“He made it clear that if you want to blame anyone about that particular project, blame him,” Reeves said of Hall. “I do appreciate his honesty.”
Reeves also released a copy of a letter he is sending to McGrath, seeking details about political pressure on the department.
“If you had any unacceptable interactions with anyone in the Legislature on this or any other project that go outside the bounds of the body’s duty to be engaged in monitoring the department and holding it accountable, I need to know about it so I can take corrective steps if warranted,” Reeves wrote.
Reeves was asked Wednesday if he thinks the $2 million frontage road would be a good use of taxpayers’ money. He responded: “Honestly, I don’t know enough about the project to answer that question.”
The Department of Transportation has been saying for years that it doesn’t have enough money to repair deteriorating roads and bridges. In April, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant ordered the closure of more than 100 locally maintained bridges that were deemed dangerous.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .