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MDOT Executive Director backs off “political pressure” claim

Photo by News Mississippi

The Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation has seemingly walked back on a claim that the department had been pressured into approving a Flowood project near Lt. Governor Tate Reeves’ home. 

Reports quoted Melinda McGrath saying that a Frontage Road project was only pushed through because of “political pressure” from the Senate. Reeves then sent a letter to McGrath urging her to come forward with any names of Senators that attempted to pressure the department, and she has now delivered her response. 

“I have never indicated any inappropriate, unacceptable, or unlawful communication with a member of the Legislature,” she wrote.

Following the release of McGrath’s letter, Reeves said the legislature is tasked with deciding where these funds are supposed to go, and it wasn’t personal. 

“When duly elected representatives of the people perform their constitutional responsibility of appropriating funds that is not political pressure it is the enacted law of the land in our state,” Reeves said.

McGrath attempted to put context behind her “political pressure” statement.

Excerpt of McGrath’s Letter to Reeves.

Reeves was also named in a report stating that he had personally discussed the project with MDOT officials. The Lt. Governor responded to the report by stating that he had nothing to do with the project, and was backed up MDOT Central District Commissioner  Dick Hall and the Chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee Willie Simmons. 

Related: MDOT clarifies controversial Flowood project

After this report surfaced, Attorney General Jim Hood announced that he had launched an investigation into the matter. Hood asked those involved in the project to hold on to any relevant information under the potential threat of obstruction of justice. In wake of McGrath’s response, Reeves has sent a new letter to the Attorney General. 

“To be clear, I have been advised by Counsel that your informal document requests that were included in your document preservation letter create no legal obligation on the Senate, my office or any individual Senators to produce such documents,” Reeves wrote. “However I, like you, want to resolve any outstanding questions about the project for the public’s interest, and therefore, I am voluntarily responding to your request.”

Related: Hood to investigate ongoing MDOT/Reeves situation

After the investigation was originally announced, Reeves called it a “political game”.

As for the project, it originally sought to improve safety in the area. Hall stated it was his call to push the project through, but a recent expansion of HWY 25 may have made the project unnecessary. 

“Now that it’s safer than it was, does it make sense to spend $2 million on that when you can spend $200,000 on a ‘J-turn’ that would work? That’s why we’re re-evaluating it. I was the one that thought we should build it, but now I’m thinking that I’m not sure that we should,” Hall said. 

Both Simmons and Reeves have stated that the priorities of the legislature come from concerned residents, and that’s why the HWY 25 project and the potential Frontage Road projects were a priority. 

“We have never attempted to put pressure on anyone to do anything, however, we are concerned, and when citizens make contact with us, we do that,” Simmons said. 

As of now, the Frontage Road project has been shelved. 

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