Before he ran in a special election to fill an unexpired term as Northern District Highway Commissioner, Mike Tagert got a taste of working with transportation issues as president of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Economic Development Council. This group that focuses solely on logistics and the transportation component of bringing in new industry made him feel he wanted to be on the three-member Mississippi Transportation Commission.
“At the Development Council I worked with all modes of transportation; water, railroads, airport and extensive interstate and state highway networks,” he said. “I ran primarily because I had seen the importance of transportation and what it means for bringing jobs into communities. I saw what a well-maintained and comprehensive system means. Many times industrial prospects screen communities based on those systems.
“I wanted to plug in to those systems and try to make some transportation decisions and work toward a bigger goal to allow all communities to compete.”
With that economic development and transportation experience under his belt, Tagert won the special election to serve one year and then won a full term, which he began serving this year.
Long before he entered the workforce, Tagert followed the example of his dad and joined the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school. That service was very important to him. After three years of active duty and three in the reserves, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College and two master’s degrees from Mississippi State University. One of the master’s is in general agricultural research and the other is in public policy and administration. For a time he ran the State Bureau of Plant Industry. “I had an interest in doing genetic research as it relates to crop improvement,” he said. “I found out quickly I couldn’t be cooped up in a lab; it drove me nuts. I guess you live and learn.”
Being a commissioner has not disappointed Tagert, who says he really enjoys the people in the Mississippi Department of Transportation and contact with communities. “The department is full of a lot of talented, very dedicated people,” he said.
The challenges he faces in the Northern District translate throughout the state. “Mississippi is still a rural state and that means you have to have a comprehensive four-lane highway system that connects people to jobs and the ability to build for the future,” he said. “Having the funds to build and to maintain what we have is a big challenge.”
He notes the good results being seen today of the big four-lane highway program that began in the late 1980s. “It was started by visionary people and is a real testament to what they did,” he said. “However, we’re still operating on the same budget of the late ‘80s and early 1990s while costs have greatly increased. No question, funding is a statewide challenge. We have this great system we’re struggling to maintain while at the same time trying to build for the future. It’s very difficult explaining to communities why we don’t have enough money to do what they want to do.”
He lists several current projects in the Northern District, including the four laning of State Route 9 to connect the Toyota plant with Pontotoc and work on Highway 78 “which will become I-22 upon completion. The completion of the Mississippi portion of I-69 is out in the distance but will be a game changer as it connects Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. “This interstate will be a tremendous opportunity for the Mississippi Delta and be of long -term importance to us as it provides new connectivity to a part of the state that really needs a boost,” he said.
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