The National League of Cities estimates that 91% of local officials report insufficient funding is the top factor impacting their decisions when it comes to local infrastructure projects. Oxford is definitely in that 91%. As communities across the nation are navigating how to restart their economies and recover in the wake of the pandemic, I had the privilege of traveling to Washington, D.C. last week to visit with Mississippi’s U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith to advocate for Oxford’s infrastructure needs.
One of Oxford’s greatest challenges is funding for infrastructure, both above and underground, to meet the needs of our growing community. Almost every time I am at the grocery store or in public, I am asked, “When are y’all going to do something about these roads? When are you going to do something about this traffic?” The pandemic highlighted the necessity of basic infrastructure for public health and how cities can support and protect our residents, businesses and keep our economy moving.
The federal government has talked about infrastructure funding and improvements for as long as I can remember, but local governments have largely been left “holding the bag” and have to fend for themselves when it comes to roads, bridges, water and even sidewalks. Communities like Oxford face the same infrastructure challenges as much larger cities, but have to do it with less resources. The city of Oxford has been fortunate to be able to keep our roads, bridges, sidewalks, water and sewer system well maintained in spite of limited resources. During my last four years as mayor, Oxford has invested more than $72M in infrastructure and capital improvements.
I think we can all agree that successful infrastructure, successful recovery and revitalization relies on cities and local communities and their governments having the resources that they need to play their part.
I left our nation’s capital encouraged that some help is on the way. Bipartisan work seems to be happening on the transportation front, which led me to believe communities across our country will be the winners if our leaders can find compromise and a path forward together.
In the meantime, Oxford continues to work cooperatively with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to advance key project initiatives for improvements at University Avenue and Highway 7. Thanks to state Sen. Nicole Boyd and state Rep. Clay Dewees, who represent Oxford, the Mississippi Legislature has provided funding to help address the critical safety and capacity concerns at this major intersection. With MDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Funding, Oxford will improve four pedestrian crosswalks along Jackson Avenue West adjacent to the University of Mississippi, which are much needed.
Our local LOU Partnership (consisting of entities in Lafayette County, city of Oxford and University of Mississippi) remains strongly committed to working together with our state and federal delegations to build on the economic recovery and to address the unique opportunities, challenges and growth dynamics faced by citizens in our area. We have specifically asked our federal delegation for funding for ready-to-move forward segments of the “Oxford Central Corridor” (Jackson Avenue West from University Avenue to Mississippi Highway 6).
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will be an important part of the puzzle in addressing our transportation infrastructure needs. I was honored to receive a call from him recently to ask how the U.S. Department of Transportation can meet the needs of small towns more effectively. I am excited that he is our transportation secretary because he clearly is focusing on contacting people “on the ground” to see what we need. Buttigieg was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where the University of Notre Dame is located, so he has a firm understanding of what we deal with each and every day. He understands that small cities have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing federal dollars.
Wicker and Hyde-Smith made it clear that we were a priority in getting additional funds for our infrastructure needs. Their efforts, combined with those of U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, will result in getting much needed infrastructure assistance in our community. I am grateful that we have national representatives that are receptive to the needs of their local constituents, which certainly helps Oxford.