St. Croix to release final transit draft

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The St. Croix County Transit Planning Subcommittee was established in July 2015, in an effort to find a possible transit system for St. Croix County.

After almost two years of working toward a feasibility study that would highlight possible options for a transit route, the subcommittee is prepared to release its findings.

At the subcommittee meeting at 9 a.m May 4, the final draft of the transit feasibility study was observed.

Ann Schell, the Transportation Planner at West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, has been working with the subcommittee closely on different options for the county.

Schell presented the board with four route options that could be bring a bus service between cities.

In the first proposed route, the study outlines how frequently commuters travel between River Falls and Hudson. The study said there are more than 900 people living in either community that work in the other, accounting for nearly 2,000 trips a day.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation showed in 2015 alone, there was an average of 16,200 vehicles per day using Highway 35 between Hudson and River Falls.

The bus service would run 12 hours a day during the week, 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. and 10 hours on Saturday, 8:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.; each direction would take about 30 minutes.

The service would approximately cost $50 per hour, or $182,000 per year.

The second route, between New Richmond and Hudson, would be beneficial for those commuting to the Twin Cities. The route could be a meeting spot for those carpooling and using the St. Croix River Crossing into Minnesota.

The route would run 45 minutes each way with a total of nine round trips each day throughout the work week. The route would have an estimated operating cost of $179,000.

The third route would be placed between River Fall and New Richmond. There would be two park and ride lots in place for transport with an estimated cost of $179,400. The trips between these two areas are fewer, but the colleges (University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Chippewa Valley Technical College and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College) between the two cities accounts for many commuters.

The final proposed route would require coordination with Minnesota's Metro Transit, something the subcommittee has had a hard time facilitating.

The route would run from Baldwin into Minnesota, and could be an option for private ventures as well. The study said it's questionable whether a profit could be recognized from the route. There are no current cost estimates at this time.

However, the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition and a group of private investors called the Organizing Council are trying to formulate a plan for a privately owned rail service between Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Schell advised the board that if residents are weary of these routes' feasibility, one option would be the best place to start.

While the bus service routes are a high priority, a possibility of a shared ride taxi-service could be used where ridership is not high enough to justify the cost of a route service.

This could be a valuable service for the elderly needing rides between townships or other areas as well. However, a shared taxi service could be costly, hitting the wallet for $1,092,000 per year, due to high service hours and low amounts of customers.

Currently, the Aging & Disability Resource Center has a volunteer driver program that takes county residents to medical appointments in west central Wisconsin and the Twin Cities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the workweek. The ADRC is always looking for volunteers.

The WisDOT Transit Planning Grant covered about 80 percent of the transit feasibility study.

As far as the phases go, with a full implementation of proposed services, the study suggests the best place to start would be the first route between Hudson and River Falls; however, the study also suggests the county continue to speak with Metro Transit to implement a plan further down the road. Then from there, implementing routes two and three together and expanding upon the shared-ride taxi service.

The plan surveyed 934 St. Croix County residents in 2016. The study found that 793 residents said they drive themselves to other destinations in the county. When asked if they'd use a transit system, 222 residents said they wouldn't use the service, but 177 said they would use it nearly every time they travel.

About 421 residents said they would utilize the bus service for more social occasions, as compared to work related ventures, totaling 146 residents.

The plan will be released on the St. Croix County's website sometime this week.