By Brad White
Your Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) starts the new state fiscal year strong thanks to the hard work of the men and women who make up the MDOT family, as well as the significant investments from both the United States Congress and the Mississippi Legislature.
Signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves, MDOT received an earmark free authorization of our Federal Program, and an unprecedented supplemental appropriation of $620 million. With these funds, MDOT will be able to continue making strides in rebuilding our workforce to better serve the public interest, as well as advancing our programs designed to protect the Mississippi taxpayers’ transportation assets which are valued at over $65 billion.
In addition, MDOT has been able to revive our capacity program which, for all intents and purposes, has been dormant for over a decade. With a dedicated $100 million a year, along with a reserve of nearly $500 million for construction, we can begin addressing many of the major transportation improvements that have been identified around the state.
This includes major projects in the Mississippi Delta. From the Greenville Bypass to the widening of portions of Highway 61, these major construction projects spearheaded by Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons will add to the efficiency of our system throughout our Delta region resulting in a safer, more easily navigable network of highways for the traveling public.
Regarding our partners in local government, your Transportation Commission is scheduled to award another $100 million in local Emergency Road and Bridge Repair (ERBR) funds that will assist in the replacement of closed municipal and county bridges, along with needed local road repairs, throughout the state. Many of these funds will be utilized in the Mississippi Delta.
But we aren’t the old Mississippi Highway Depart-ment anymore. We are the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Thanks again to the funds made available by our Legislature, the Transportation Commission will be equipped to invest an additional $30 Million into our states Ports, Airports, and Rail infrastructure. This is in addition to our normal investments in these modes of transportation along with Public Transit.
As former Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall used to say, “We are not just building a transportation system, we are building an economy.” This is a responsibility that we at MDOT, along with the Transportation Commission, take very seriously.
In closing, I’d like to say a few words about the outstanding public servants who make up the teams of men and women seen throughout Mississippi working to build and maintain our transportation system.
When I was hired as MDOT Executive Director in July of 2021, the most pressing crisis in need of addressing was the agency’s hemorrhaging of employees. With no salary adjustments in years, and a rising cost of living, MDOT’s ability to maintain the needed workforce to plan, build, and maintain our transportation system was flailing. An agency that once employed over 3,000 people was now having to address the same needs associated with maintaining a $65 billion system with nearly 20% less of the workforce.
Many of these employees are our first responders. When tornadoes and hurricanes ravage Mississippi, MDOT maintenance forces are the first on the ground working to clear our highways and interstates of debris so emergency vehicles can get through. This was best brought to life recently in an interview former Governor Haley Barbour gave on MDOT’s podcast, The Extra Mile.
As you would expect, much of Governor Barbour’s time was spent discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Beginning his story, he pointed out that when the first responders were being deployed to south Mississippi to help begin the long recovery process after Katrina, it was MDOT Maintenance Crews who were leading the way. With bulldozers, chainsaws, and other equipment, MDOT forces literally cleared the path for those bringing the needed help and assistance to Mississippi families who had lost everything.
As you can tell, I am very proud of our team. Being allowed to serve as MDOT Executive Director is the highlight of my professional career. I continue to be made proud by the strides we are making in advancing our transportation system throughout Mississippi, and in all modes of transportation – and in the fact that we are accomplishing this in a financially responsible manner.
Mississippians should prepare to see a lot of “orange” in the future. While the progress this represents will require temporary patience on the part of the traveling public, the end-product being delivered will be well worth the wait and investment. DBJ
Brad White, is the MDOT Executive Director.