Jim Hood signals probe into frontage road with letter to Reeves, top officials

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The office of Attorney General Jim Hood has sent letters to more than 50 state officials asking them to preserve any records they might have related to a planned frontage road off Lakeland Drive from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ neighborhood to a nearby traffic light at a shopping center.

The letters, which Mississippi Today obtained, went to Reeves’ office, members of the state Senate and leaders at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which oversaw the project.

Reeves’ office did not immediately comment on the letter. At a news conference at the Capitol last week, however, Reeves denied having any involvement in building the road and later sent a letter to Melinda McGrath, the director of the MDOT, asking for proof that anyone in the Legislature tried to influence the agency to construct the frontage road.

Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves carries his speaking points as he leaves a news conference where he spoke about controversial state-funded road projects, including one near his gated community, during a news conference in July 2018.

“I am not aware of any undue influence on that particular project,” Reeves at a news conference at the time.

The $2 million frontage road project was recently postponed by Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall after a story last week in the Clarion Ledger quoted McGrath saying pressure from the Senate, where Reeves presides, influenced the decision of the Mississippi Department of Transportation to build the road.

Before now Hood, the state’s top prosecutor, has declined to comment on the controversy or indicate whether his office would look further into the matter. It is generally believed that Hood is the Democrats’ leading candidate for governor in 2019 while Reeves will likely lead the Republican field.

The road was planned from two neighborhoods, Oak Ridge Trail and Dogwood Place, both located at the same intersection, to the Dogwood Festival shopping center where a traffic light is located. The point of the road would be to make it easier for the residents to turn left onto Lakeland back toward Jackson.

MDOT

Central District Highway Commissioner Dick Hall

While praising McGrath, Hall said he made the decision to construct the road for safety reasons and that he was not contacted by Reeves or his office about the road.

But Hall now says the road might not be needed for safety reasons. He said the recent widening of Lakeland in the area from four to six lanes makes it easier for residents of the two neighborhoods to turn left from their intersection because the traffic is more spread out.

In last week’s news conference, Reeves told reporters even though he had no hand in planning the frontage road, he is a “champion” and advocate for the $43 million project to widen Lakeland Drive.

McGrath has not commented on the request from Reeves.

MDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hood’s letter.