MDOT Commissioner and Lt. Governor respond to controversy surrou - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

MDOT Commissioner and Lt. Governor respond to controversy surrounding Expansion Project

An MDOT Commissioner responded Wednesday to questions of controversy surrounding the $2 million "Phase 2" of the Lakeland Drive Expansion Project. Source: WLBT An MDOT Commissioner responded Wednesday to questions of controversy surrounding the $2 million "Phase 2" of the Lakeland Drive Expansion Project. Source: WLBT
The project was halted almost immediately after the Clarion Ledger quoted the MDOT Commissioner as saying the development was politically-motivated. Source: WLBT The project was halted almost immediately after the Clarion Ledger quoted the MDOT Commissioner as saying the development was politically-motivated. Source: WLBT
Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves asked 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. Source: WLBT Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves asked 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. Source: WLBT
JACKSON METRO AREA, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

An MDOT Commissioner responded Wednesday to questions of controversy surrounding the $2 million "Phase 2" of the Lakeland Drive Expansion Project.

The project was halted almost immediately after the Clarion Ledger quoted the MDOT Commissioner as saying the development was politically-motivated.

MDOT's Central District Commissioner, Dick Hall, who is overseeing the project, says he was not personally facing political pressure when he decided to take on the project, nor when he decided to pause it. 

"All I can tell you is, nobody talked to me," said Commissioner Hall.

The expansion would create a mile-long access road from Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeve's subdivision to the Dogwood shopping center. The street would benefit only a small number of people.

The Clarion Ledger's report says MDOT Director Melinda McGrath was facing pressure from the Senate, which the Lieutenant Governor leads, and "Would not have done this otherwise". 

Almost immediately after that report came out, Commissioner Hall froze the project.

Hall explained he originally approved the construction of the access road because he thought the change to a 6-lane road, and the traffic the expansion would bring would require a frontage road for safety reasons. However, after Phase 1 of the project was complete and MDOT was able to review new data on traffic flow in the area, Hall realized Phase 2 might not be necessary, and paused the project to review other options.

"If anybody's to blame for this, it's me, because I did felt that it should be built," said Hall. "But for safety purposes, the staff has now pointed out to me, that the proof of the pudding is, that it's safer now than it was. So we are now going to re-assess it....There's a vast difference in the cost of building a frontage road and something we call a J-turn, and some other options that are available. So our engineers are going to re-assess it with all that in mind, and we are going to decide whether that frontage road needs to be built."

Hall admitted other people within the Mississippi Department of Transportation may indeed have been facing political interference, but that his decisions were entirely based on the safety and efficiency of the roadways MDOT was considering building.

"We're going to do this on engineering basics. I'm the guy who thought it needed building for safety reasons. If the study shows we don't need to build it for those safety reasons, we're not going to build it. And it's not going to have anything to do with what anybody in elected office has to say to me, whether it be the Lieutenant Governor, the Mayor, or anybody else," explained the Commissioner.

Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves asked 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. He also held a press conference to explain his stance on the situation. 

"I saw Commissioner Hall's press conference today, in which he said that he made the decision to build the frontage road. He said he had never spoken to me about the project, and he said if you want to blame anybody, blame him. And so, I really don't know how you can interpret that any other way than exactly what the commissioner said," said Reeves. 

In a letter to Melinda McGrath, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Lt. Gov. Reeves asked for her assistance in identifying specific instances of unacceptable interactions so the matter can be investigated and addressed.

“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 investigate and take corrective steps if warranted,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said.

A copy of the letter is below: 

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