By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – John Caldwell wants to see Mississippi’s I-22 corridor look like the interstate highway it’s supposed to be one day.
“We should be at interstate standards by now,” Caldwell said in reference to the proposed I-22, which is now U.S. Highway 78 across Mississippi from I-65 in Alabama to Memphis. Federal highway plans call for its upgrade to meet eventually with a new I-69.
“In the meantime, we’re not doing our part to maintain it,” Caldwell, of Nesbit, said during a Daily Journal interview.
If elected to the three-member panel, Caldwell said he will press to divert funds from other projects to accelerate completion of Highway 15 as a major north-south corridor and to help change the commission’s attitude “to believe we can fix” a broken system.
Caldwell, 49, is transportation director for the DeSoto County Schools. He is a former two-term county supervisor and a Marine reservist just back from a week’s work in Africa.
“I’m running to make a difference,” he said, noting the commission’s recent experiences with in-fighting and quarrels about its controversial executive director.
“But leadership is important, and there’s not anybody to answer to but the voters.”
He termed the state’s current highway improvement plan – called Vision 21 – “a good plan, a step forward,” but said it doesn’t go far enough or fast enough. And, he added, it lacks the perspective of a total transportation system.
He said the Transportation Commission needs to be much more aggressive and creative to get its plans completed within reasonable time periods.
As for funding rail improvement programs, Caldwell said, “I think private enterprise will answer that.” But he said he doesn’t think taxpayers’ money should be used “to be the catalyst” for these improvements.
Much of the state’s transportation programs are funded with a tax on fuel.
Caldwell said increasing those taxes “should be off the table” while the state’s members of Congress wrangle with their colleagues to secure a larger share of national fuel tax revenues.
Caldwell also said he:
n Would ask the Legislature to reduce state taxes as a way to simulate economic development and put money back into state coffers for transportation projects.
n Would consider a state bond program to borrow money as part of an overall transportation funding plan.
n Promises to be a commissioner for the entire 33-county district, despite getting more than 56 percent of his Jan. 11 vote from his home county of DeSoto and its neighbor, Tate.
“I’ve heard the concern,” he said about his political base. “It’s understandable, but it’s not a legitimate concern.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Age – 49
– Home – Nesbit
– Current job – transportation director,
DeSoto County Schools
– Jan. 11 election – 10,713 votes,
led in two of the district’s 33 counties.