UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Reeves talks controversial road plan

The Mississippi Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on a plan to build a $2 million access road to a gated subdivision where Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves lives.

Posted: Jul 11, 2018 9:18 AM
Updated: Jul 11, 2018 3:42 PM

Update 07/11/18 - Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is asking the state's top transportation administrator to assist him in identifying any inappropriate actions of legislators or legislative staff regarding construction of a frontage road along Highway 25.

MORE: See the full letter here

See the original story below.

FLOWOOD, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on a plan to build a $2 million access road to a gated subdivision where Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves lives.

Transportation commissioners said they made the decision during conversations Tuesday. It happened after the Clarion Ledger reported that the department's executive director, Melinda McGrath, said there was "political pressure" from the Legislature to build the road in the Jackson suburb of Flowood.

McGrath wouldn't say who was pressuring her other than to say "the Senate side." Republican Reeves leads the Senate.

Commissioner Dick Hall said he and his two colleagues will evaluate the need for the road.

"I'm not saying we're not going to do it, but we're going to postpone it and re-evaluate the need for it," Hall told the newspaper.

Commissioner Tom King told The Associated Press there is no safety reason to support building the road.

McGrath said much of the communication from the Capitol to her department has been verbal. But records show Reeves' staff and his neighborhood's property owners association have communicated with the department about the frontage road, which would parallel busy Lakeland Drive between a shopping center and the entrance to two subdivisions in Flowood.

Reeves declined to be interviewed. A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor said the city of Flowood and the state negotiated the project.

"The lieutenant governor suggested a red light years ago at the intersection due to a number of accidents that had occurred. MDOT evidently did not view that as a good option," the spokeswoman said. "He does support the frontage road as a safe alternative."

Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads said he knows of no political pressure from Reeves to build the road and said the city pushed for it as a "safety issue."

From December 2017 through May, there was only one crash at the corner and it was not severe. The intersection scored low on MDOT engineers' "severity index" before and after widening.

Records indicate the Oakridge Property Owners' Association opposed the city of Flowood's support for MDOT building a right turn lane and associated U-turn, a $200,000 alternative to the new $2 million road. The head of the homeowners association favored continuing to allow left turns across a widened Lakeland, saying safety wasn't a problem.

"We have used that crossover for more than 10 years (since the inception of our neighborhood) with relatively few safety problems," Walter Brand, president of the Oakridge Property Owners' Association, wrote to Rhoads.

Reeves has been critical of the Department of Transportation. This year, as the House and Senate sparred over road spending plans and failed to pass anything, Reeves proposed a plan to give the governor much more control over road spending. Reeves is widely expected to run for governor in 2019. One component of Reeves' plan was to strip $125 million from MDOT over five years.

The discussion comes as the state struggles to pay to maintain existing roads and bridges. Reeves and the Senate earlier forced the department to spend $43 million widening Lakeland, which is part of state-maintained Mississippi 25.

"Have you ever ridden down Highway 25? It is without question the project that needs funding more than any other, and for whatever reason the Department of Transportation has not made it a priority," Reeves said at the time.

It's also the most direct route from Reeves' home to the Capitol.

House members blocked the move in 2014, killing the annual transportation funding bill and forcing a special session. But Senate negotiators earmarked a 2015 bill requiring the agency to widen the road, forcing the department to spend millions that would have gone to other projects.

In a list of early "demands" the neighborhood gave to the department, homeowners wanted the new road to be one-way from the neighborhood to Dogwood Boulevard. Transportation officials balked at building what would have essentially been a private driveway.

The neighborhood voiced concerns over whether it would be reimbursed for property for the project before agreeing to donate it. The state paid other property owners $323,000.

At one point in negotiations a lawyer wrote to the head of the homeowners' group that: "MDOT instructed me to point out that this project is for the benefit solely of the Oakridge homeowners and expeditious execution (of deeds and easements) would be appreciated."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844594

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1160612006
Mobile741651379
Madison53255732
Shelby38313368
Baldwin38061589
Tuscaloosa35996641
Montgomery34473781
Lee25541263
Calhoun22582518
Morgan22441406
Etowah20009517
Marshall18771316
Houston17723425
St. Clair16863358
Limestone16123218
Cullman16032303
Elmore15902294
Lauderdale14945306
Talladega14186299
DeKalb12957269
Walker12011380
Blount10700192
Autauga10512157
Jackson10151194
Coffee9412192
Colbert9325208
Dale9013191
Tallapoosa7248201
Russell707465
Chilton7015170
Escambia6951143
Covington6926195
Franklin6337108
Chambers5778142
Marion5400130
Dallas5283209
Pike5114109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4777110
Geneva4640136
Bibb434094
Barbour369180
Butler3433100
Marengo342393
Monroe336666
Randolph334067
Pickens333188
Fayette329885
Henry320566
Hale317989
Cherokee316963
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254360
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184647
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139041
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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