By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – A transportation revival seemed to take place in City Hall Wednesday.
Like any proper revival, it started with prayer.
Tupelo City Council President Nettie Davis’ minister prayed for support for public transportation for people in need in the community. Following that, Davis read scripture from the book of Acts about helping others.
“I think this is a strong thing that we need prayer for,” Davis said of the meeting’s topic.
Many public transportation advocates started conversations in the city five years ago and have little to show for it beyond reports collecting dust. However, they hope this time will be different. “I’m optimistic about it,” said Jim Casey, a member of the city’s transportation committee.
Mayor Jason Shelton’s comments to the group helped set the tone, showing he needed no convincing for more public transportation options in the city.
“It’s something that is near and dear to my heart from all aspects,” he said. “I have family members who have the same impediments to getting around as all the other folks who do.”
Staff with the state and local chapters of the AARP, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, members of the transportation committee, neighborhood association members and others in the city met to discuss the situation, especially costs involved.
Shirley Wilson, director of MDOT’s public transit division, discussed federal grants available through the state department to fund public transit efforts. She also mentioned economic impact of public transit for the community, how every dollar spent on it would have a $3 return.
With Tupelo’s population less than 50,000, the city qualifies to apply for funding through the rural areas transportation program, which provides 80 percent of funding for administrative and capital costs and half of operating costs. Wilson projected startup costs for a local public transportation program would cost Tupelo taxpayers $110,100 for the total cost of $390,300. This estimate does not determine specific plans. Cost could be less if the city decided to partner with another organization.
“We have to explore this,” said Councilman Buddy Palmer of Ward 5.
Another meeting to discuss the issue is planned for early December that will likely include representatives with Booneville-based Northeast Mississippi Community Services, which provides transportation services.