Jump-start now to roll buses in ’06, expert tells city

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2004

[12/15/04]Speed is of the essence, consultants said Tuesday, to obtain federal funding for a public bus system or the project could be delayed until 2007.

Charles Rutkowski of the Community Transportation Association of America said Congressional funding that could cover up to 80 percent of the $3.2 million startup cost and most of the annual operation expenses will be allocated soon and cities across the county are lining up.

“You pretty much need to start now if you want to have this in effect by mid-2006,” Rutkowski said.

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Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said he supports the project, presented to city officals Monday, and will seek support from aldermen, but Warren County District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, president of the Board of Supervisors and an annouced candidate for mayor in 2005, said the county board needs more time before making any decisions.

“If there is an urgency it should have been looked at six months ago so we could have gotten all the information and be ready with a decision by now,” Selmon said. “I do have a problem with someone saying we’ve got to stop what we’re doing now and apply for a grant in 30 days.”

CTA made its presentation again Tuesday to a second sparsely attended session.

Leyens said it would be “arrogant” to wait and risk losing the potential federal backing for the project and delay it for at least another year.

“You can say we have no urgency and push it off for another year, but as public officials we have to look at what’s in the best interest of the community,” Leyens said.

Diane Gawronski, who has served on the Chamber of Commerce committee that has worked on the project for 1 1/2 years, said supervisors were kept informed about the plans from the beginning including three previous draft proposals.

“I don’t think this is a surprise and I’m surprised to hear you act surprised by all this,” Gawronski said.

Selmon said that the main piece of information supervisors needed before reaching a decision was the cost which was first made available last week.

“We will discuss this at our next meeting and we will let you know,” said Selmon, who represents District 3 on the county board.

The plan calls for five bus routes that would provide specific stops at local industries and retail areas, and would include flexible service to city and county areas as needed. Buses would run 12 hours per day for six days each week. Fares would cost $1 per passenger.

Buses would be handicapped accessible and carry about 20 persons.

A.T. Stoddard of LSC Transportation Consultants said the plan would also be flexible to allow for changes as needed.

Vicksburg previously was served by private bus companies, but today the only form of public transportation is taxis.

After startup costs, the consultants estimate annual overhead of $700,000, most of which would be covered by grants and $61,000 in fares and the rest subsidized from local tax collections at a rate of about $250,000 per year.