By STEVEN NALLEY
Transportation projects took center stage Friday when leaders representing the city of Starkville, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi State University and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership held the quarterly Community Roundtable Luncheon at the Starkville Sportsplex.
Starkville and MSU are applying for a grant which will enable them to create three major public transportation routes serving the city and campus as early as fall 2013, and MSU President Mark Keenum said he feels confident the application will succeed. Even if it fails, he said MSU plans to create a public transit route from the Starkville Sportsplex to campus starting this fall.
“That will give us a great opportunity to see how (public transit between Starkville and MSU) is going to work,” Keenum said. “I look at that as something that will help us from the standpoint of alleviating pressures of traffic on our campus and parking, which is a continuous challenge for us.”
Oktibbeha County District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson discussed another transportation project at the meeting, a four-phase southern bypass to the Longview community shared by the university and county. The first two phases are complete, he said, and as MSU begins work on the fourth phase, the third phase is in the county’s hands.
“I’m hoping by this summer that the county will have the rest of the signatures that are included in our (3.2 miles),” Jackson said. “Out of 60 parcels, we lack about 12 signatures. As far as infrastructure, that’s one thing the county is looking forward to getting complete. For the most part, we’re on track.”
Both Keenum and Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said they also still expect the Cotton Mill project to succeed.
“There’s a lot of confidence around the table,” Wiseman said. “(If it succeeds,) it will be one of the largest, if not the largest single development projects this community has ever seen.”
Keenum said he extended the contract with Cotton Mill developers about two months ago at a Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning meeting.
“We’re in continuous communication with developers, meeting with the lending and financial institutions who are helping to make this mission possible,” Keenum said.
Keenum also said enrollment at MSU continues to rise, with 440 more students this spring than in spring 2011. He said senior leadership at MSU expects another enrollment increase this fall, and he believes the growth will assuage funding cuts’ impact.
“We’ve experienced three consecutive years of cuts,” Keenum said. “It’s too early to tell what type of funding we’re going to have (this year.) We’re prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. We’re going to still be in good shape because we’re growing and we have a good relationship with this community. I feel very positive we’re going to come out in good shape.”
David Shaw, MSU vice president for research, said groundwork has begun in earnest on the park’s second phase, including a four-lane boulevard.
“Between all of the entities that are at the table here, there’s a great spirit of cooperation,” Shaw said. “That’s really turning into real growth for our research and development program, but also from our economic growth perspectives.”
Finally, Oktibbeha County Administrator Don Posey said the county staff is still adjusting to several new public officers who have replaced longtime incumbents.
“I’ve been with the county several years, and we’ve had the same people,” Posey said. “It’s kind of hectic.”