Tunica Transit



Planners for the Mississippi Department of Transportation are exploring whether a high speed bus from Tunica to Downtown Memphis is feasible.

"This is something that's been talked about as early as 1996," said John Houghton, senior planner with Gresham Smith and Partners. "Including east/west routes, we estimate it would have about 1,700 riders a day."

Potential users are tourists traveling from downtown Memphis to Tunica, as well as people who fly in or out of Memphis International, and Tunica casino workers.

Houghton also cited DeSoto County's rapid population growth. From 1990 to 2010, the county gained 100,000 residents.

Planners considered light rail, commuter rail, and high speed bus service but, with signal prioritization, the buses are similar to trains but at a fraction of the cost.

Three routes from Memphis to Tunica are currently being explored: U.S. 51 to I-69; I-69; and Airways to I-69.

The only I-69 option would have a trip time of 73 minutes and would cost about $24.7 million in capital costs. Operating expenses would be $4.1 million.

Airways to I-69 would take 79 minutes — in this option, planners included a proposed MATA lightrail from Airways to downtown — and would cost $22 million in capital and $$4.1 million in operating expenses.

The U.S. 51 route would cost $28.8 million in capital costs and only serve about 40 more riders per day.

One snag is that no one has identified where funding for this project would come from. An initial $70 million was made eligible for a Mississippi I-69 project in the 2005 transportation bill, and the project was designated under the federal Small Starts program.

Under Small Starts, a local project sponsor can request a maximum of up to $75 million, but the sponsor has to provide (typically) a 50 percent match and cover all operating costs.

There was talk that Mississippi and Tennessee could potentially split the cost of the match.

For more information, go here.

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