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Released January 28, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - The rumbling you'll hear on campus in February is nothing to worry about - unless you miss your ride. Your trolley ride, that is, on the Downtown Lunch Express.

Plans call for trolleys to head to the university's campus on a test run in the month of February to whisk away hungry staff and faculty members downtown for a relaxing, stress-free lunch.

That means no driving, no traffic, no worries - even about how you'll get back to campus. That's been taken care of, too: The trolleys will run every 20 minutes, giving you plenty of time to slip back behind your desk.

Created by the Southern Miss Department of Economic Development, the city of Hattiesburg and Historic Hattiesburg Downtown, the Downtown Lunch Express is an initiative to bring students, faculty and staff members to downtown restaurants to promote downtown businesses with quick, efficient and economical transportation.

The Downtown Lunch Express will cost $1 round-trip and will target those who work at the university who can't access their parked vehicles easily.

The service will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to reduce traffic congestion, offer a variety of restaurants for lunch and provide accessibility to downtown Hattiesburg.

The route will follow Hardy Street west to the university and back again, then will circle downtown, stopping at major intersections within one-block access to major eateries.

The Monday-through-Friday route will be two linear routes, with 20-minute intervals, and plans call for signs on campus to inform of trolley stops.

The 24-person trolley will enter at Southern Drive at the Service Road entrance, circle the interior campus, turn into the main campus entrance at East Memorial Drive, travel north to the Service Drive to Southern Drive, and exit to Hardy Street, where it will travel east to downtown.

The trolley will follow Hardy Street to West Front Street, travel north to East Front Street, turn left onto Market Street to Batson Avenue to North Main Street, travel east to Walnut Street to Southern Avenue, turn right back to Hardy Street, and continue its route to the university.

"The trolleys are to increase ridership to and from downtown," said Christine L. Brown, of the city's urban planning and mass transit department.

"It's an automobile traffic alternative much like bicycles and the like - it's another tool."

Brown said that the dollar round-trip fee will be used for maintenance and fuel for the trolley. She said that though the trolleys are not yet ADA accessible, disabled patrons can still call the Demand Response number at 545-4670 to get rides to downtown. "We are in the process of purchasing additional vans and buses that are ADA accessible, but patrons can always call the Demand Response for a ride," Brown noted.

"They just need 24-hours' advance notice."

Richard Taylor, director of the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center, said the Downtown Lunch Express came about after a conversation he had with the Southern Miss chair of the Department of Economic Development, Ken Malone, and later, members of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown and the city.

"The point was the parking perception (on campus) that staff and faculty members have a tendency to not relinquish choice parking spaces to go off-campus for lunch," Taylor said. "Ken suggested we set up a trolley run from the university to downtown area during lunch on weekdays."

"We support the effort to grow downtown because of its vital role in growing our entire community."

Malone said that downtown eateries can benefit from an increase in volume during weekday lunch periods. "People have a reluctance to leave (campus) during the day," he said.

"Off-campus dining options are difficult to walk to. The city and university are committed to economic development, and this is a good way to promote that."

"The trolley downtown is a marketing test that, if successful, could turn into a real neat experience for the people of Southern Miss," said Bud Kirkpatrick, head of the Promotions Committee of Historic Hattiesburg Downtown.

Bernice Linton, executive director for Historic Hattiesburg Downtown, agreed.

"This project can do two things: support the restaurants downtown and introduce students and faculty members to downtown. Both have me very excited."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM