City of Oxford at odds with MDOT over Highway 7 – University Avenue project

Published 10:23 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill and the Board of Aldermen were not pleased with a Memorandum of Agreement sent to them from the Mississippi Department of Transportation regarding the planned Highway 7 and University Avenue interchange project.

During the Board’s regular meeting on Tueaday, the MOA was presented to them and discussed with several items Tannehill taking exception to. The agreement was drafted earlier this year and sent to MDOT, who then made their own changes to the MOA and sent it back to the Board.

In the current MOA, it states the city would contribute up to $1 million in funds and project resources along with $1 million they received from appropriation bills from the Mississippi Legislature over the past couple years. Lafayette County would contribute up to $1 million, which must be voted on and approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors.

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The Mississippi Legislature also authorized $4 million in general obligation bonds for the project early last year.

The first item Tannehill took issue with was the MOA stating the commission (MDOT) is “willing to contribute up to $1 million dollars for the cost of the project.”

“Well, how generous of them on their own road,” Tannehill said.

The MOA later states that the city, county and MDOT would then equally split any expenses over $7,750,000. The most recent estimate for the project was done three years ago, which had the total cost around $9 million.

“We know that construction costs have gone up about 20 percent every year,” Tannehill said. “I don’t think there’s anyway to think that it would be reasonable for this job to come in at ($7.5 million) and there’s really no way in the world the taxpayers of Oxford can have just an open check for whatever the overages are to split those three ways. No, thank you.”

The MOA also states the city would be responsible for any “errors and omissions”  with the plan design and would be responsible for and maintain University Avenue east and west of the interchange. The right of way would also be acquired in the name of the City of Oxford and not MDOT.

Tannehill stated the interchange is owned by MDOT and should be maintained by them.

“The City of Oxford cannot take over the responsibilities that the Mississippi Department of Transportation is advocating to others. They need to take care of their own roadways,” Tannehill said. “We have generously used taxpayer money, our time and our political collateral to bring in $5 million dollars for an MDOT project and they are saying that they will be donating up to a million dollars. The city can’t do that and the Department of Transportation should not ask.”

The Board voted to approve Tannehill’s request to continue to negotiate the terms of the MOA with MDOT.

Tannehill noted that MDOT has said before that the city should have “skin in the game” when it comes to roadway projects. She then went on say the city has had “skin in the game,” for the past several years: including paying back a developer $11 million for the MDOT roadway at the Highway 7 and Sisk Avenue interchange; spending $750,992.77 towards utility relocation for a proposed frontage road project that MDOT never constructed; spending $465,838.70 for utility relocation at the Highway 7 – County Road 401 intersection that the city “did not ask for nor did not want,” Tannehill said.

By the end of 2022, the City of Oxford will have spent $6,178,000 to relocate utilities for the widening project of Highway 7 that has yet to make it on the 25-year plan.

This comes on the heels of a joint request signed by Tannehill, Lafayette County Board of Supervisors President Mike Roberts, Mississippi Senator Nicole Boyd and Mississippi Representative Clay Deweese asking for an immediate plan to improve safety along the Highway 7 corridor in Oxford and Lafayette County.

The letter was sent to all MDOT Commissioners and Executive Director Brad White.

Earlier this month, three people were killed in two separate wrecks within a 24-hour span between the Highway 7 and 9 roundabout project and the Highway 7 and County Road 401 project.