Gov. Tate Reeves unveiled an infrastructure plan last month that continues lawmakers’ decades-long trend of ignoring the state’s largest Black community.
Intending to boost his reelection campaign, Reeves proposed a $1.3 billion proposal targeting his favored voters by steering money to construction-ready projects in primarily white towns and communities.
“These investments will go an incredibly long way toward giving Mississippi the competitive advantage it needs to land more economic development projects and deliver more high-quality, high-paying jobs for Mississippians,” Reeves said.
Mississippi, however, does not include Jackson. Along with $150 million in Tippah and Lafayette counties and $124 million in road work for DeSoto County, the wealthy communities of Madison and Rankin counties get $65 million and $55 million in road work, respectively. Reeves’ long list allocates Hinds County a mere $119k for tree clearing. The city of Jackson—arguably Mississippi’s most embattled city, with a ring of parasitic suburbs draining its middle class and critical resources—receives nothing from Reeves’ proposal. In fact, according to the map Reeves included with his announcement, his proposals manage to creep up to the very edge of Jackson without managing to step a toe inside it.
Reeves assures that he plans to add an additional investment of $100 million to the Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Program, for which all 82 Mississippi counties can apply. It comes with no assurance of successful procurement, of course.
The governor’s overwhelming blind spot for Mississippi’s majority-Black capital city is nothing new for the state’s white lawmakers, neither is it for majority-white boards and operators overseeing state infrastructure expenditures. Organizations steering federal money to road projects are equally adept and sending crucial funding to cow fields and grassy knolls far outside the decaying streets and aging infrastructure of the state’s most populated city.
The federal government mandates a planning body be responsible for transportation planning in urbanized areas with a population higher than 50,000 people. The Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD) has served as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Jackson Urbanized Area (JUA) since 1975, and it is responsible for transportation planning for county and municipal jurisdictions within Hinds, Madison, and Rankin counties.
Hinds County and the city of Jackson are just a tiny part of a larger CMPDD governing board that includes the affluent juggernauts of Madison and Rankin counties, however, in addition to Copiah, Simpson, Warren and Yazoo counties. Jackson’s representatives are consequently a tiny minority on the board, and they have little say in how CMPDD spends its money, even though the amount of federal money flowing through CMPDD is determined by the city of Jackson’s own high population count as reported by the Census.
“One year (CMPDD) came up with a formula that only dedicated 17% of (federal) money to potholes and street repair. The rest of it was put to new construction outside of Jackson,” said former Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., who served interrupted mayoral terms between 1997 and 2013.
A Jackson MPO video claims the arrangement assigning only a few people to represent the region’s most dense population center “promotes regional collaboration,” but Johnson warned any collaboration resulting from such a scheme is united against Jackson.
The CMPDD’s “FY 2022 Annual Listing of Federally Obligated Projects” suggests skewed funding priorities in that a fraction of money appears to go to the city with the oldest infrastructure and greatest need. The numbers on Table 9 of the report, entitled the “Jackson Urbanized Area Fiscal Year 2022 FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) Obligated Projects” are particularly galling.
Expenditures reveal about $31 million in road investment modifications in Madison County alone. These additional investments include an $8 million boost for paving Interstate 55 near Madison’s Yazoo County border, as well as a $4.5 million increase for work on Mississippi Highway 463 serving Madison’s burgeoning new urban sprawl. Also included is a $4.4 million increase for widening Madison’s Bozeman Road from Highway 463 to North of Gluckstadt Road to accommodate new housing.
Madison County has an estimated population of only 109,000 people. Hinds County, which contains roughly twice as many people (222,679) according to the Census, saw only $15.5 million in modifications during that same period. This includes desperately needed resurfacing on Jackson’s long-ailing State Street and Meadowbrook Road.
The CMPDD is aware of where most of its population resides. Its own population map reveals considerable density within the City of Jackson, which could be better served with road expansions, resurfacing and new construction. But the organization prefers to direct the brunt of federal funding to emerging “growth trends,” and building new urban sprawl to absorb the Jackson’s collapsing middle class.
CMPDD acknowledges current population needs, but instead focuses on future growth.
The figures in this report do not reflect CMPDD’s full investment in streets and structures, but if modifications match the full disbursements, Jackson is clearly not the CMPDD’s priority, and pockmarked streets and unusable roads are the intended result. Other planned outcomes, say critics, are the unbroken army of public centers moving to outlying areas, forcing city residents to drive farther afield for simple services.
Lap Baker served 17 years in the planning division of Hinds County’s Public Works Department, and claims he’s served as a planner for 51 years. Baker explains the capital city once served as a convenient central location to get a driver’s license, birth certificate, or tax document. Now these service centers largely lie in suburban locations.
“Do you know where the CMPDD offices are located now? It’s over in Pearl,” said Baker. “You know where it used to be located? From its beginning it was in Jackson, on Lakeland Drive, right where the Mississippi Braves ballpark was located. I used to go there for every meeting.”
Baker says the board will continue its wasteful trend of expanding away from its neglected center if Hinds County and Jackson do not find a way to collaborate with other members on the CMPDD board to share federal dollars.
Johnson argues, however, that horse-trading and collaboration was not an option decades ago because of the sheer number of anti-Jackson parties on the board.
“When I was mayor, we had about three votes on the board and everybody else was making deals around Jackson, (not with us),” Johnson said.
He added that there is little indication the environment has grown more friendly since then, especially considering recent building trends.