Forcing a decision on Jackson improvements

Published 1:48 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

As your Senator, sometimes my job isn’t just to make decisions, but to force decisions be made or be the facilitator who encourages others to act. I’m doing a little of all that right now, specifically with regard to Jackson-area flood control and transportation.

Each spring Mississippians are reminded of the devastating Easter Flood which drowned Mississippi’s capital city back in 1979. Many Mississippians think our state’s local, state and federal leaders have taken precautions to prevent a similar flood from happening again, but nothing has been done.

For different reasons, every Jackson area flood control plan has been opposed and eventually scuttled. Since 1990, I’ve been urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and local officials to come together and decide on a comprehensive Jackson-area flood control plan.

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Recently there has been some local discussion about the so-called “Two Lakes” plan which would create two flood control lakes along the Pearl River, close to downtown Jackson. As a side benefit, these lakes also would be used for recreation and economic development.

This plan has potential, but the Corps of Engineers has been more reluctant, saying it can’t legally consider the plan’s estimated economic benefits as part of its complex cost/benefit analysis. I believe it’s a project we should pursue.

Right now our state’s capital city needs not only this project, but several other positive initiatives to improve its core downtown area.

In addition to Two Lakes, we must move forward with the Jackson Airport Parkway Connector, a new road that will directly link downtown Jackson with the airport in Rankin County. It would better connect a major international portal with the state’s largest central business district and the seat of our state government.

It also would alleviate traffic along Lakeland Drive and in the “stack” where interstates 20 and 55 and State Highway 49 converge.

Some say Two Lakes and the Airport Connector aren’t compatible. I disagree. I think we can and should do both. There’s absolutely no reason for them to be mutually exclusive.

In a recent meeting in Washington with Corps engineers and representatives from Hinds and Rankin counties, my message was: It’s time to make a decision and move forward on both these projects. Don’t goldplate either one. Just produce cost-effective, achievable projects that will work.

As Mississippi’s Senator, I’ve already secured about $36 million federally for the Airport Parkway, and I stand ready to help with flood control as well when local leaders and the Corps resolve to move forward. I have one caution to all concerned with Metro Jackson’s development and flood protection: Time is ticking. Without some decisions soon, federal support for both these crucial projects could wane.

In Washington there are more calls for “earmark reform” which seek to limit your Senators’ and Representatives’ ability to fund local projects like these. This makes it more difficult for even seasoned legislators like Senator Cochran and me to secure the federal support we need. That’s why I’m trying to force a decision on these projects sooner rather than later.

Whether or not you live in the Jackson area, every Mississippian should be concerned with helping to improve our state’s capital. It sits on a site chosen specifically by Mississippi’s founders.

General, and later President, Andrew Jackson was a strong leader never accused of being indecisive. We should harken back to his attitude as we seek to make his namesake city a better place.

(Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office))