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Transit Commission to move forward

A new commission set to launch for St. Croix County will seek possible routes to address the area's growing transportation needs.

The Transit Commission will develop policy regarding any transit programs the county develops, including transit options for senior citizens, people with disabilities and businesses whose employees commute.

Commissioners' tasks will include contracting potential private partners, applying for transportation grants and purchasing new equipment.

Any funding decisions, however, will remain under County Board authority.

County supervisors approved the commission Feb. 14 with a 15-4 vote.

Nine people will comprise the commission: two Transit Planning Subcommittee members, one county supervisor and six citizen members.

The commission could cost the county about $9,300 annually for per diem expenses, but Subcommittee Supervisor Dave Ostness said commissioners would likely decline payment for their roles.

Scott Cox, corporation counsel for the county, said at previous meetings the commission would make it easier for the county to secure federal grants.

The commission would work with the subcommittee, which the county's Transportation Committee formed in 2015 with a federal administration grant.

The subcommittee studied the feasibility of transit services throughout the county. They published their findings in 2017.

Among the options the group discussed was establishing fixed bus routes connecting Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls. The county's estimated costs for the routes would be $219,000 to match federal grants.

Some supervisors worried the commission's establishment was a prematures decision.

Scottie Ard was among four county supervisors to vote against establishing the commission. She said more work needs to be done.

"I think we need more data, more reach-outs for partnerships, whether they're public, public-private or expansive," she said. "But I don't think this is the time to establish a commission."

Supervisor Tom Coulter, who also voted against the commission, said developments like self-driving cars could render some of the commission's solutions obsolete.

"We're on the verge of a lot of big things happening," he said. "I'd say that buses are going to look very retro in the not-too-distant future."

Ostness said it would be a few years before the county makes decisions like adding buses.

Instead, he said the commission will start evaluating options for partnerships to better meet residents' needs.

"All of the folks I've talked to have never said, 'I want.'" Ostness said. "It's a need. We need to get folks from point A to point B, we need to get folks who are sitting at home who can't get out to church, we need to get them out to the grocery store... I think we can do that. It's going to be a long process."