By NATHAN GREGORY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen approved Mississippi State University Parking Services’ plan Tuesday to submit a grant proposal to the Miss. Department of Transportation. If MDOT agrees to the public transit grant, it would provide half the funding necessary to have three shuttle routes throughout the city of Starkville and 80 percent of funds needed to purchase shuttle shelters and buses. The program would be named the Starkville/MSU Area Rapid Transit.
The deadline to submit the proposal is March 4, and the university would know this summer if the grant is accepted. The three routes would be a city and campus connecting route, a city circular route and a Starkville Sportsplex route.
The city and campus route would begin at the campus bookstore and go down University Drive, making stops in the Cotton District and by the old electric building before continuing downtown, turning down Washington Street to Lampkin Street and connecting back to Main Street through Jackson Street on the way back to campus.
The city circular route would be served by two buses and would circle the city, stopping at medical facilities and lower-income neighborhoods. It would go down Highway 182 to Stark Road and come back down Highway 12, stopping at businesses on the way.
The Sportsplex route, which would also be served by two buses, would pick up passengers at the Sportsplex and take them along Lynn Lane, South Montgomery Street, over to Blackjack Road and to the university.
MSU Parking Services Director Mike Harris said if the grant is accepted, all buses will be in code with the American Disabilities Act and the routes would likely begin operating in late 2013. Each bus would cost approximately $150,000.
“(MSU Parking Services has) been having meetings with MDOT and going to workshops over the past year anticipating this. The way the grant works is you have a point system where you get so many points for having services to lower income public housing facilities, meeting ADA requirements and partnering with other entities within your district or region,” he said. “Everything depends on this grant being successful. If it is, we certainly see that as a plus, not only for our campus but our community and citizens.”
Harris said he believes the time is right for a system of this sort.
“We’ve had a transit group that has met over the past year with representatives from the campus and the community as to what areas we need to service. This has been a collaborative effort. It’s not something we’ve done overnight. We saw the need for this with continued enrollment growth on campus and growth in the community,” he said. “We want this to be our system, not the university’s system.”
The routes would run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Harris said in a presentation at the meeting he believes SMART would connect the citizens of Starkville with all the businesses and recreational facilities their city has to offer while reducing the city’s carbon footprint.
“It’s a great way to connect the city and campus, and it’s a green solution to traffic and congestion. What we’re trying to do is help with the overall quality of life for our community and campus,” he said. “This is an important project for our community. It’s a way to bring us all together. This is something we want to offer to all our citizens, and we hope they take advantage of it.”
Harris said if the proposal is accepted he would like input from residents on how the routes can best serve them.
“As we go forward ... we can look at it in a more finalized situation. We welcome anyone who would want to give us ideas. Nothing we’re proposing right now is in concrete,” he said. “We would certainly take ideas in consideration. If we can implement comments and suggestions we’ll certainly try.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said he and the area roundtable formed to develop the SMART program think it would be instrumental in reducing traffic congestion.
“This is something we feel has great potential. We have a large population within the city that goes to and from campus on a daily basis. We think there’s great potential to ease the flow of traffic by offering mass transportation options that are hopefully convenient and desirable,” he said. “We also feel we’ve got residents in our community that either don’t have access to a personal vehicle or ... a reliable vehicle. It is our hope that this system will offer a means of moving from point to point in the community without having to own or have access to an automobile as a requirement.”