Pete Buttigieg and Bennie Thompson unveil $20 million investment in Jackson roadway

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (second left) greets Reena Evers-Everette, daughter of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, at her former home, now the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument, Friday, June 21, 2024 in Jackson. Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons (left) and Congressman Bennie Thompson (center) also toured the Evers National Monument. (Photo: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today)

By Violet Jira and Simeon Gates

Mississippi Today

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson broke ground Friday on a $20 million renovation of Medgar Evers Boulevard in Jackson.

The boulevard, named for civil rights leader Medgar Evers, is in a state of disrepair. The roadway, which connects north Jackson to Interstate 220, is a mass of potholes and patched pavement flanked by shuttered businesses, largely due to lapses in maintenance.

“This is a project that is so important to rebuilding and reconnecting Jackson, Mississippi,” Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons said during remarks. “If you look at our interstate system, you’ll see a lot of disconnect. But here, this project is going to be one of those projects that is going to reconnect Jackson and create opportunity.”

Carolyn Wells grew up in the neighborhood along Medgar Evers Boulevard, and was neighbors with the Medgar and Myrlie Evers family. While she is happy to celebrate Evers’ legacy, she feels the street is in desperate need of repairs.

“Our street is horrible to me,” she said.

Wells and other residents frequently call the city for problems like sinkholes and uneven roads. She hopes the new street can bring much-needed improvements. Local residents and officials hope the improvements will bring the corridor back to life and drive economic prosperity in the area.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Jackson what Buttigieg called a ‘highly competitive’ $20 million grant to rebuild the boulevard. The money comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021. 

Thompson, the Democratic 2nd District congressman, and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker are the only members of Mississippi’s delegation to vote in favor of the legislation. 

Other active projects in Mississippi include modernization of an air traffic control tower at Golden Triangle Regional airport in Columbus and restoration of rail service between the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Alabama and Louisiana that was disrupted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On the 60th anniversary of the slayings of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia and just over 61 years after Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway, Thompson and Buttigieg connected the new roadway to the larger history of civil rights activism in Mississippi.

“As we bear the moral weight of our inheritance, it feels a little bit strange to be talking about street lights and ports and highway funding. And yet, part of why we’re doing this work is because we know that even the most superficial examination of the legacy of the civil rights movement reminds us of the relationship between transportation and equality…,” Buttigieg said. “Homer Plessy sat in the white car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Medgar Evers called for the boycott of gas stations that wouldn’t allow black customers to use their facilities. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, of course, to a white man on the Montgomery bus. Transportation is so elemental to all of our lives that disparities in access to transportation affect everything else.”

In addition to the ground-breaking ceremony at Myrlie’s Garden, named for Medgar Evers’ wife, Buttigieg and Thompson took a tour with Reena Evers, the couple’s daughter, of the Evers home. 

In a press conference, Thompson called the new project a “down payment.” He said that these improvements were part of repairing the years of neglect and inequality that created the community’s current issues. 

“We don’t plan to overburden the citizens who live on the street, but you’ve got to preserve that legacy,” Thompson told Mississippi Today. “As a person who felt Medgar Evers’ influence, I’d be heartbroken if we didn’t keep that legacy alive.”

The new roadway will reconnect the street with other parts of Jackson, along with several improvements. It will have more sidewalks and street lights, better sewer lines, and make travel in the area easier and safer. Transportation Commissioner Simmons said the project probably will be awarded next spring and take approximately two years to complete.

“Good transportation can lead directly to economic opportunity. In the same way that lack of transportation can cut people off from opportunity,” Buttigieg told Mississippi Today. “We’re here to make sure that transportation connects. That it doesn’t divide.” 

The visit marked Buttigieg’s first visit to Mississippi, and is part of a two-day tour of the state that included stops in places like Greenville, Rosedale and Jackson.

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Pete Buttigieg and Bennie Thompson unveil $20 million investment in Jackson roadway

By Jackson Advocate News Service
June 30, 2024