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MDOT Director Warns About Impact To Public Transportation

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 11 Jul 2012 05:00am | comments

A leading Mississippi official is warning that the future of the state's public transportation program could be damaged by a drop in federal spending. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that could limit options for thousands of Mississippians.

The executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Melinda McGrath, says Mississippi nearly lost its 10-to-15 million dollars a year in a spending fight over the recently passed highway bill.

McGrath says some federal law makers opposed spending money on public transportation in a bill funded by the gasoline tax.

"For every person that you get out of a car and you put in a public transit environment, whether it be a bus or a tram, that is that much more capacity that you have freed up on the roadway. So public transit is a direct derivative of the highways and it should be part of that funding type," McGrath said.

McGrath defended the importance of public transportation at a transportation summit in Jackson yesterday saying losing that money would have 'wiped our public transit system out' and left many of the state's most poor and elderly without transportation.

"You will always have the poor with you. And I personally think it is our responsibility as a country to take care of everybody," McGrath said.

Mary-Anne Robinson, who works with people with mental disabilities, says losing public transportation system would also impact people who can drive because the burden of transportation would shift to them.

"Just think about a person with a disability and years ago you were just stuck in the house. And now you have the independence to go and do anything you want to do. That is important to me and it is important to them," Robinson said.

Expanding the public transportation around Mississippi might mean changing the idea of what public transportation is, says MDOT's Charles Carr.

"We are looking at more than public transportation. We are looking at community transportation that involves faith based organizations, non profits that provide transportation for targeted populations as well as the general public," Carr said.

Carr says the next step is designing a centralized system so the state and the non-profits can coordinate their transportation efforts.

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