August 27, 2013 9:51:08 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
The launch of two main public transportation bus routes is now expected in early 2014 as purchase orders and vehicular modifications are completed in the coming months, Mississippi State University Director of Parking Operations Mike Harris said Monday.
Officials previously hoped to have the full system active in the fall semester, but Harris said additional time is needed to "get things right" for route expansion and integration.
The Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit (SMART) system's main routes -- the City Circular and City-Campus Connector -- should go live early in 2014 after shuttle purchases conclude in October. Modifications, including GPS and signage installations, are required before the new buses are added to the fleet.
Since its unveiling last year, leaders have heralded the coming public transportation link between Starkville and the city's primary economic engine as a significant step forward. The receipt of an almost-$2.4 million rural public transportation grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation positioned the university to expand its current shuttle system to a free-of-charge system with numerous stops in the community.
About $1.5 million of the grant was allocated to purchase 12 new buses, which will increase MSU's entire university and SMART fleet to 32 vehicles. The campus and city routes are expected to transport about 6,000-8,000 passengers each day. City routes will operate six days a week, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and give passengers access to shopping, banking, city services, health care, public housing, recreation and high-density residential areas.
Confirmed destinations include OCH Regional Medical Center, Walmart and Kroger, according to a MSU press release Monday.
"When we started looking into this, we said we wanted to do it right," Harris said. "When it is time to cut the ribbon, we want a fully functional system instead of something we're trying to piecemeal together. If we started trying to push it out immediately, I don't think it would go out in a manner it should."
Materials for bus shelters are also currently "on order," Harris said. The city will build those structures this fall.
"This is a game changer for Starkville," Mayor Parker Wiseman said in the release. "It offers us the opportunity to ease the flow of traffic from within the city to the university and also from point to point within the city. This service will enable our citizens who may not have reliable transportation to be able to access all parts of the city and university with ease."
In February Wiseman told the Dispatch: "That's where the real economic development opportunities are. If you're in a community that has no mass transit, then not having a viable personal vehicle can mean the difference between getting to work and not getting to work."
Although the main two routes are not yet active, another MDOT-funded route linking campus with Lynn Lane residents is fully operational, Harris said. Stops on that path include the Starkville Sportsplex, Spruill Townhouses and Collegiate Heights.
"This convenient, timely transit operation between key areas of campus and the city will meet an ever-growing need for improved public transportation in our community and definitely enhance the quality of life for students and Starkville residents," MSU President Mark Keenum said in a release.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch