TUPELO • With less than two weeks before the state’s general election, the two candidates for Northern District Transportation Commissioner are getting more specific with infrastructure plans and competing to convince voters who will be the most fair in deciding which areas in North Mississippi will be prioritized for road projects.
John Caldwell is the Republican nominee campaigning on the idea of compiling a comprehensive list of potential road projects as one of the first things he would do if elected. Joe “Joey” Grist is the Democratic nominee running on a platform of wanting to four-lane several roads in North Mississippi to connect the region with other areas of the state.
Grist has called for portions of several highways to be four-laned, including highways 6, 7, 8, 15 and 25. Grist said if these highways are widened, it would open the northern area of the state up to the rest of the state for economic growth.
At several campaign events, Grist, a former Democratic member of the state Legislature, has claimed his opponent does not have a concrete infrastructure plan and says if Caldwell is elected, he will only advocate for infrastructure projects that benefit the DeSoto County area.
“All of his biggest Republican votes are from DeSoto,” Grist said. “He’s going to have to take care of DeSoto. I have nothing against DeSoto. I just want it to be fair through the district.”
Caldwell, a former supervisor from DeSoto County, has rebuffed these claims and told the Daily Journal he wants to implement infrastructure plans to help all of North Mississippi.
“People have asked where the northern headquarters is going to be. I tell them it’s going to be in Tupelo where it’s always been,” Caldwell said. “But, with technology, I’ll be able to be everywhere.”
Caldwell said he doesn’t have a specific list right now, but, if elected, he does want to talk to residents in smaller municipalities and larger towns to make sure he cultivates an “inclusive” list of potential road projects and said there does not need to simply be a “partial list” of potential projects.
“I have my own ideas of what roads are important,” Caldwell said. “Mine may not be the end all be all. I’m confident that I have some good insight, but I’m not trying to drive my opinion down anybody’s throat. I have to live with the people who drive on those roads. They may have more insight than the engineers at MDOT.”
The election comes at a time when approximately 52 county-owned bridges have been closed and approximately 414 county-owned bridges have been posted with weight limits.
Caldwell said the first thing he would do if elected is to evaluate the revenue stream before evaluating other financial decisions at MDOT.
“The revenue stream is changing,” Caldwell said. “There’s already new money coming in with the lottery, and sales tax revenue is coming in from online sales.”
Grist said part of the solution is to see where waste could be cut within the transportation department and try to educate Mississippi companies on the bidding process so more businesses can be awarded state contracts. Grist said this would keep more tax dollars in the state.
Caldwell and Grist will face off in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.