Gov. Tate Reeves gives his State of the State address on the steps of the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Monday, January 30, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Thursday he has a plan for infrastructure improvements to drive economic development, and he’s asking lawmakers for $1.3 billion this session so he can kick off road projects statewide.

Reeves said the “vast majority” of the projects are already in the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s three-year plan for road work, but he’s picked ones that are shovel ready and that will help traffic capacity and give “Mississippi the competitive advantage it needs to land more economic development projects and deliver more high-quality, high-paying jobs for Mississippians.”

Reeves wants lawmakers to use a historically large budget surplus to fund his road plan, during an election year.

Reeves announced his “plan to drive further economic development and growth in Mississippi” at a press conference on Thursday. He had a large state map showing numerous proposed projects dotted statewide, many of them long in the works by MDOT or requested by local leaders.

It is unclear why Reeves would go around MDOT and normal channels and ask lawmakers to put $1.3 billion in a special account for his plan, or why it wasn’t part of his budget recommendation to lawmakers in the fall. He said time is of the essence, particularly with high inflation rates driving up cost of road construction, although he acknowledged all the projects couldn’t be completed during one fiscal year.

Reeves’ proposal includes a request for $100 million for the state Emergency Road and Bridge Repair program, which provides money for local governments. Lawmakers allocated $100 million for the program last year, with the Senate pushing unsuccessfully for $300 million. Reeves also is asking for more money for grants to develop project-ready industrial parks statewide.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann on Thursday issued a statement about the governor’s proposal.

“The Senate has prioritized infrastructure funding, with billions allocated for road, bridge, water, and sewer projects over the past several years,” Hosemann said. “We look forward to reviewing the Governor’s recommendations and continuing our emphasis on critical infrastructure.”

MDOT Director Brad White, Reeves’ former chief of staff, and Tom King, chair of the three-member elected Transportation Commission that oversees MDOT, both supported Reeves’ request in statements on 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,” White said. “I applaud Gov. Tate Reeves and the Legislature for their vigorous support and focus on Mississippi’s transportation system.”

King said: “Our top priorities at MDOT are safety, efficiency and economic development. This initiative hits all three. 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.”

Reeves said, “We have had conversations with individual members (of the Legislature) and the leadership” about his road plan.

Asked how he views the chances of lawmakers earmarking $1.3 billion for his road plan, he said: “I am forever an optimist when it comes to working with the Legislature.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.