Southaven has agreed to share the cost to hire a consultant to form a three state regional compact that could help DeSoto County and the Mid-South fund key infrastructure and transportation projects.
The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday gave Mayor Darren Musselwhite the green light to spend up to $10,000 to jumpstart the process.
“My recommendation is, it’s worth $10,000 to us to investigate this,” Musselwhite said. “It’s an MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) on steroids. I think it can be a really good thing.”
The plan is being called the Tri-State Compact Agency and would include mayors and representatives from DeSoto County, the Memphis metro area, and eastern Arkansas. The regional entity would give the Mid-South more clout in obtaining federal funding for transportation projects that would benefit the entire region.
Musselwhite said there are several major road projects in Southaven and DeSoto County like winding Interstate 55 and Church Road and the Star Landing Road interchange that he has been advocating the need for for years, only to be told that the Mississippi Department of Transportation doesn’t have the money for.
He said it is time to stop taking no for an answer and work regionally instead to secure funding that will benefit not just Southaven and DeSoto County, but Tennessee and Arkansas as well.
“The state looks at us and says, 'Hey, we hear you. You have a good point, but we have no money'” Musselwhite said. “I’m not being disrespectful to any of my colleagues or any of our superior elected officials, but the bottom line is, when are we going to do something different? How long are we going to say ‘we don’t have the funding’ and do nothing about it? That’s what caught my interest with this. This has a potential to get some collaboration with three states to get more money into the Mid-South area which could help us solve some of these problems.”
Region Smart, which oversees the Mid-South Mayor’s Conference, is recommending the group spend $150,000 to hire a consultant to help set the compact up. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has offered to pay for half of the cost.
Olive Branch recently voted to pay up to $10,000 for their share to join.
Musselwhite said he asked for up to $10,000 in case other cities decide not to participate.
“If you break it down evenly with the population of DeSoto County, our share would be approximately $7,500,” Musselwhite said. “I am asking for $10,000. The reason is there are so many moving parts. If one city says no and doesn’t want to do it, we don’t want to kill the whole thing. If everybody doesn’t participate, then your share is little bit higher.”
There are more than 200 similar regional compacts across the United States. The Mid-South Mayor’s Conference recently heard about how St. Louis formed Bi-State Development, a contact between St. Louis and seven adjacent counties in Illinois and Missouri that was able to fund infrastructure improvements that benefited that region like the Merchants Bridge replacement over the Mississippi River and improvements to Interstate 270, as well as the formation of St. Louis Regional Freightway district which helped improve transportation logistics at the port in St. Louis.
Alderman At Large George Payne asked Musselwhite if there were any safeguards that would be put in place in the compact to ensure that one state or one city doesn’t benefit over the others as far as which projects get funded.
“There may be some projects that are very beneficial to Arkansas and Tennessee but it would not be beneficial to us,” Payne said. “Widening the interchange and widening 55 all the way down to Hernando may not be beneficial to Tennessee. Was that mentioned?”
Musselwhite said that was one of the main concerns that he had and was assured that the agency would be set up so that the entire agency and every state would have to agree on each project in order for it to be funded.
“For their to be any allocation whatsoever, it would have to pass by majority vote of the full board,” Musselwhite said. “But then in addition to that, it would have to have a majority vote of all the components. Each board in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi would have to vote to approve it or else it dies. So obviously that would kill something that benefits one area but not the whole region.”
Musselwhite likened the proposed compact to an “MPO on steroids.” The Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is responsible for dividing federal transportation dollars for projects in Shelby and Fayette Counties in Tennessee, and DeSoto and Marshall Counties in Mississippi.
“Your concern is fundamental to use even entertaining this idea at all,” Musselwhite said. “The MPO has worked great with all of the other cities and counties getting a share of that. I don’t think you would find anybody with experience with the MPO that will say is is a bad thing.”
Musselwhite said the compact will need the approval of all three state legislatures, but he believes it will be a worthwhile effort.
“There are still a lot of hoops to go through,” Musselwhite said. “I don’t know if this is going to pan out to be great or not. But my point is, let’s do something different.”