Mayors in DeSoto County say they are interested in hearing more about the possibility of forming a proposed compact with Tennessee and Arkansas to help fund additional transportation projects that will benefit the entire region.
The plan is being called the Tri-State Compact Agency and would include mayors and representatives from DeSoto County, the Memphis area, and eastern Arkansas.
Forming a regional entity would give the Mid-South more clout when it comes to obtaining federal funding for transportation projects that benefit the entire region.
Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson said he hasn’t discussed the proposal yet with the Board of Aldermen, but indicated that he favors greater regional cooperation.
“The real goal is to get more attention for the Mid-South as a whole,” Johnson said. “Individually we have strong cities in northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, and eastern Arkansas. But we feel like if we can come together with three different Congressional districts and the diversity that brings, and the message that sends to Congress, we can possibly do some larger projects and get more funding for the area.”
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 compact between St. Louis and seven adjacent counties in Illinois and Missouri that was able to fund infrastructure improvements including the replacement of the Merchants Bridge over the Mississippi River and improvements on I-7270 from Missouri to Illinois Route 11, as well as the formation of St. Louis Regional Freightway district which helped improve transportation logistics in St. Louis.
Region Smart, which oversees the Mid-South Mayor’s Conference, is recommending the group hire a consultant for $150,000 to help set the compact up. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has offered to pay for half of the cost.
Olive Branch Mayor Ken Adams also is a fan of the compact and his city voted to pay up to $10,000 for their share of the cost to get things started.
“There is strength in numbers,” Adams said. “While the mayors will always do what is best for their city, we can team up together and do what is best for the region.”
Adams said while he is appreciative of the funding the city gets from Mississippi Department of Transportation for roads, MDOT has limited funding and their budget has been flat for the last ten years.
He believes the region would benefit by working together to get more money for projects to improve the interstates.
“If we could add additional off-ramps on Hwy. 78/Interstate 22, or additional off-ramps on I-55, or to get third lanes that we need to deal with traffic, those would be big wins for the whole region,” Adams said.
Adams added that also he likes the way the compact would be set up so that the entire agency and every state would have to agree on each project to get it funded.
“I like that because if Tennessee wanted to do something, and Arkansas wanted to do something, if they had unanimous votes in those states but didn’t have a majority of DeSoto County mayors agree, then it would die on the vine and we wouldn’t ask for it to go to Congress. I think that is a good fail safe.”
Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer said while he likes the idea in principle, he has a lot of questions and is skeptical about being able to work with Memphis.
Memphis sued Horn Lake and Southaven in 2019 to stop treating its sewage when a contract between the three cities expires in 2023.
“I need to talk to Mayor Musselwhite to see exactly how that would work,” Latimer said. “With the situation we are in with Memphis about the sewer, I’m not the most trusting person of Memphis. So I’d like some more information.”
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite agrees there needs to be more discussion before bringing it to a vote.
“It would be an understatement of the century to say that north Mississippi and Memphis haven’t always worked well together,” Musselwhite told the Board of Aldermen. “There have been lots of agreements that did not go well and there have been some trust issues. It still applies to some people. So I think there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before we vote on this.”
Musselwhite said he is going to ask Region Smart executive director Anna Holtzclaw to meet with the county and boards of aldermen to explain the compact and answer questions.
Musselwhite added that he is very impressed with what St. Louis was able to do, and is a little more comfortable experimenting and giving the compact a try.
“What they did in St. Louis was special,” Musselwhite said. “They did that to make sure everybody benefited from it.”