State Street to remain Jackson’s responsibilityBy ANTHONY WARREN,
The chances that North State Street will be taken over by the state are slim to none, according to Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.
“We’re not taking over city streets. We’ll do anything we can to help, but we will not take it over,” he said.
In Jackson, North State is owned and maintained by the capital city. North of the city limits, the street turns into U.S. 51, and is maintained by the state.
Hall cites repair costs and right-of-way encroachment as two major reasons the state won’t consider a takeover.
“Once we turned the street over to the city, we lost total control of what was put on the right-of-way,” he said. “They’d have to move signs, buildings, all sorts of things that have intruded.
“It would be impossible to remove it and an inconvenience to property owners.”
As for repair costs, Hall said the state doesn’t have the money to maintain its own roadways, much less any new ones.
Tens of millions of dollars would be needed to completely rebuild North State, based on the costs of the TIGER project.
Jackson is spending $19.6 million to reconstruct a roughly two-mile stretch between Hartfield Street and Sheppard Road.
Broken down, that’s approximately $9.8 million per mile.
To rebuild the roughly 7.8 mile stretch from Fortification to East County Line Road would take an estimated $76 million.
The state began deeding over State Street in the 1950s. The final section was handed over to Jackson in 1974, after city and state officials determined traffic use along the roadway was mostly local, and that the road no longer formed a substantial part of the state highway system.
An agreement was made that the state would repave the road one last time, the city would pay for curb work and striping, and would take over the street’s jurisdiction once the project was complete.
At the time, the decision was a win-win for both entities. The state government was struggling financially, while Jackson was booming. (The capital city’s population would reach its peak in the 1980, with nearly 203,000 residents.)
Fast forward nearly 40 years, the city’s population has fallen by more than 33,000 people, and both the state and city are cash-strapped.
Jackson had to raise property taxes twice in the last two years to balance the budget, while a study released by the Mississippi Economic Council in 2015 shows the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) needs an additional $375 million a year to address current and future road needs.
“We have a backlog of about a billion and a half in highways that need to be repaired and $2 billion in bridges,” he said. “That’s just in our system. That doesn’t count what the county needs,” said Hall. “We need $400 million a year to start catching up.”
Meanwhile, Hall said the state is helping Jackson address needs along the heavily traveled roadway.
MDOT helped Jackson craft its application for federal TIGER grant funding, he said.
In 2015, the city received an initial $16.5 million in TIGER grant dollars to be used on North State and West County Line Road, an amount that was later increased to $19.5 million.
Additionally, Jackson has received $1.86 million in federal dollars through the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD) to repave North State from Fortification to Woodrow Wilson Avenue.
That project is currently in the design phase and expected to be bid out in 2019.
The commissioner also pointed to the state’s approval of an infrastructure sales tax, as well as the creation of the “Capitol Complex Improvement District,” or CCID.
The infrastructure sales tax has been in place for four years and has generated more than $50 million in revenue, for use specifically on Jackson infrastructure projects.
At least $6 million of that is going to pay for TIGER grant construction costs.
Last year, state lawmakers approved setting up the CCID and setting aside a portion of the sales tax dollars generated in the city to pay for road, water and sewer needs within it.
The district takes in a large portion of the capital city, including parts of Fondren, Belhaven and Northeast Jackson.
“They have access to the money to make repairs now and they’re making them,” Hall said. “Jackson is doing what they should have done years ago.”