Alliance backs public transportation push

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2004

[12/21/04]The Vicksburg-Warren County Community Alliance is backing a proposal to seek federal funding to pay part of the cost of a public transportation system and is calling on the city and county to be partners in the project.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Monday to accept that recommendation and the Warren County Board of Supervisors voted to receive it for information. The proposal for a public transportation plan calls for nearly $1 million in local matching funds that could come from either the city or the county.

Charlotte Koestler Duffey, executive director of the Alliance, said the citizens group supports the plan because it would provide people with a way to work as well as access to health care, shopping centers and education resources.

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“We’re supporting this effort and we’re asking you to support it, too,” Duffey said.

The Alliance was formed about three years ago as an umbrella organization to coordinate the efforts of community agencies and organizations.

The proposal for a public transportation system was started through a Chamber of Commerce committee that received a grant to fund a study that recommended five routes at a start-up cost of about $3.2 million. Of that amount, the local share would be about $650,000.

Mayor Laurence Leyens has said he supports moving forward with the proposal, applying for federal grant funding that would pay 80 percent of the capital cost and forming a city/county transit authority.

“When I was running for office, there was clearly a tremendous feedback for the need for public transportation,” Leyens said. “Although the public meetings were not well-attended, I don’t think that reflects the need.”

In three previous public meetings, fewer than a dozen people other than city and county officials have attended, but City Planner Wayne Mansfield said that a 2003 Chamber survey of 500 people indicated a need. That survey of 500 people indicated that 72 percent of those who responded said they would use public transportation if it were available.

It was not clear how the survey results were calculated or how it was taken. The results also appear in conflict with the 2000 Census which showed that 81 percent of Warren County workers drive their own vehicles to work each day.

The Census also showed that about 1.2 percent of Warren County residents rely on public transportation to get to work while about 15 percent carpool. Additionally, 2 percent work from home and 1 percent walk.

The proposed transportation routes include major employers at Ceres, the casinos and the harbor.

“Every time we buy a tank of gas we’re subsidizing transportation in Los Angeles, New York or Natchez and this is about trying to bring some of that federal tax dollars back to Vicksburg,” Mansfield said.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young and South Ward Aldermen Sid Beauman indicated they will also support the plan.

“There is a need out there and we need to do everything we can to help,” Young said.

Consultants have told the city there’s a need to act quickly to obtain funds. They have projected 61,000 fares paid per year at $1 each toward a total operating cost of $700,000 per year.

In other matters, the City Board:

Appointed a new police officer, Kevin Oliver.

Received bids for tree removal and truck bodies.

Adopted an ordinance to amend voting precincts and polling places and to submit those to the U.S. Justice Department for approval.

Approved an additional $8,484 cost to the downtown art park.

Entered agreements with various non-profit agencies to donate certain usable items from homes to be demolished under the flood buyout program.

Accepted the resignations of Robert Walters and Jessica Williams from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Approved the free use of the Kings Community Center for the Kings Head Start black history program on Feb. 17.

Approved the claims docket.

The City Board will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday at City Hall Annex.