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Transportation Commission Report: MSU buses could extend to city, sidewalk ordinance variance proposed

February 22, 2011

Starkville Daily News

Mississippi State University is exploring options to expand its University Shuttle system into the city of Starkville once again, according to the Starkville Transportation Committee's 2010 annual report released on Feb. 15.
The report summarizes the committee's discussions, decisions, actions, and recommendations over the past year. Topics covered include bicycle lanes, sidewalks, utilities, coordination, proposal creation and public transit.
The report says the committee has worked with MSU transportation coordinator Mike Harris to investigate funding the expansion through grants such as the TIGER II proposal and 5311 funds from MDOT. However, Harris said the University still needs to partner with a regional transit authority and hold public hearings on the project, so the University will miss the March 4 deadline to apply for the 5311 grant. He said the University is looking at the Meridian Transit Authority for the partnership.
“It'll actually take us the better part of next year,” Harris said. “We want to do this right, we want it to be successful, and if that means taking a little longer, it's worth it.”
Harris said part of the reason the University, the committee and the city are proceeding methodically is because they tried a similar extension five years ago, which did not receive the ridership needed to succeed. Since then, however, the shuttle system has used GPS tracking to keep buses on schedule. Harris said the GPS tracking, together with public hearings, will take the project in the right direction this time.
“I don't see how it could not make it more successful,” Harris said.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said he, like the University, is very interested in the project.
“Right now, however, I'd say all discussion on that is very preliminary,” Wiseman said. “We'll see where it goes.”
Harris also said it was too early to be certain about the details of the project. However, some of the areas he said he would like to see shuttles reach include off-campus student apartments, medical facilities, and retail outlets.
He also said once the University obtained the grant, the city and the University would both help pay for the expansion. Harris said current plans call for the two to split 50 percent of the operational cost and 20 percent of the capital cost, with grant money covering the rest.

Sidewalk ordinance variance process proposed

The report also references the committee's recommendation of the latest draft of a variance process for Starkville's sidewalk ordinance.
Jim Gafford, chair of the committee, said, “Under this process, a variance may be granted if the total cost of sidewalk installation is more than 2 times the current average construction cost.”
Gafford said the draft had gone through several revisions, and the committee had loosened its requirements greatly before presenting it on February 15.
“We feel we've done this to achieve the best compromise at this time,” Gafford said. "The Board of Aldermen voted as of last Tuesday to hold another set of public hearings. It's largely out of the hands of the Transportation Committee, and into the hands of the Board of Aldermen."
Wiseman said the committee's draft could be up for adoption very soon.
“The board will have a public hearing at the March 1 meeting, and there will be the option for an additional hearing,” Wiseman said. “It's at that time the proposal would be up for adoption.”
On Jan. 5, in a 4-3 vote, the Board of Aldermen granted an exemption from the ordinance to property owners on four roads in Starkville's industrial park after after Rudy Johnson, director of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, promised publicly to take his business out of the city if not granted an exemption for his planned Senior Enrichment Center. Wiseman vetoed the exemption, and Gafford said he agreed with Wiseman's decision for the sake of promoting sound, objective policy.
“I don't necessarily think that sidewalks should be everywhere, but my perspective is, we need to have a better definition of the criteria for exceptions,” Gafford said. “Those decisions need to based on real objective finding of fact and consistent with a broader plan and vision for growth in development."
The committee's report also mentions efforts on several other fronts to make Starkville more friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists:

The committee has worked with the Starkville Electric Department to identify and map areas where utility pole installation blocks, inhibits, or voids sidewalk compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is seeking funds to move these poles or bury their lines.
The committee submitted an unsuccessful proposal to MDOT requesting funds for a traffic analysis to assess congestion issues on South Montgomery St.
The committee, together with City Engineer Edward Kemp, has drafted a bike lane map, recommending striping, street overlays, and multi-use path development to complete the circuit. It is also working with Starkville in Motion and the Bicycle Friendly Community Program to earn BFC status.
The committee wrote and submitted an unsuccessful $20 million request to USDOT and HUD to support the city's infrastructure improvements.
The committee is working with Kemp, Wiseman, and City Planner Ben Griffith to prioritize areas of greatest need for sidewalks, including high use areas, areas hazardous to pedestrians, and areas where gaps need infill.

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