Buses would cost $241,000 to crank|[4/09/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 11, 2005

Tommy Williams, a resident of Magnolia Manor who often walks to his destinations, says he will be happy when a proposed public transportation system gets up and running.

Williams was one of the people who spoke Friday at a public hearing before the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen in favor of a federal grant to fund part of the start-up cost of a community bus system.

He also said the proposed $1 fair won’t deter people from using the proposed system.

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“That ain’t nothing when it’s $2 for a gallon of gas,” Williams said.

The city is seeking a $328,000 federal grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation that will be combined with $500,000 through Congress for the purchase of buses and other equipment. City Planner Wayne Mansfield said that will leave about $241,000 required locally to get the project off the ground, but said the money could come from different sources, including private industries.

“That’s really what we’re hoping for, is to generate enough interest from local industries,” Mansfield said.

No one spoke in opposition to adding the shuttle-type bus service to Vicksburg’s amenities.

Vicksburg and Warren County have also contracted with Evelyn Bumpers, executive director of Meridian Public Transit System, who is helping with the grant application and the project’s final design.

Details are still in the works, but so far the proposal calls for a five-route bus system with a hub in the downtown area. Mansfield said buses could be rolling early next year.

The plan would include routes to Kings, River Region Medical Center, Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex, area shopping centers and local casinos.

Consultants hired through the Chamber of Commerce developed the plan that also calls for flexible routes to provide pickup in adjacent residential areas when needed.

“I’m just delighted that we are at this point,” said Jim Stirgus Sr., chairman of the Chamber’s transportation committee.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said public transportation was one of the No. 1 issues mentioned to him four years ago when he began campaigning for public office.

“I am very convinced that a large portion of our population will benefit from this,” Leyens.

Although city officials have supported public transportation, county officials have been reluctant to participate, citing in part the cost to local taxpayers.

Consultants have estimated revenue from bus fares and other sources could generate about $71,000 annually, but not enough to cover the annual operating cost of about $600,000.

About half of that cost would be covered by federal grants, leaving about $260,000 annually to come from local sources. That amount could be funded by local government supplements or through private industry sponsors.

In other matters, the city board: