By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State University students and Starkville residents soon will be able to travel more easily.
The university announced on Tuesday a $2.4 million federal grant that will help provide a public transit system for both the campus and the city of Starkville. The grant is part of a $3.3 million effort by the city and university.
“This is the kind of improvement that is the symbol of a thriving community versus one simply existing,” said Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert during a news conference on campus Tuesday.
Called Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit, or SMART, the new system will be free to the public. It will include three scheduled routes: one between the city and campus, one that circles the city and one for the Sportsplex connectors. Previously, the university had operated two “flag and ride” routes with no set schedule.
SMART also will have GPS tracking, allowing residents to use their computers or smartphones to see when trolleys will arrive at a particular bus stop.
“The reliability, dependability and affordability will be very popular for this community at large,” said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum. “The university is extremely excited about this.”
The grant was distributed through the Mississippi Department of Transportation. It includes $1.5 million for the purchase of up to 12 buses and more than $800,000 for transit operations.
The effort resulted from a partnership between the city, university, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors and Greater Starkville Development Partnership. Leaders from those entities meet regularly to discuss possible collaboration.
Work on this project has taken place for about a year and a half.
“We all decided it made sense for us to pursue a mass transit strategy together as a community,” said Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman.
Full implementation is expected by next fall.
“We think it will have a big impact on reducing traffic on this campus,” Keenum said. “We are a growing university. The community at large is growing and expanding. Hopefully it will cut down on congestion, not only on the campus, but in the city.”