Viewpoint: Time to get on board with public transportation in St. Croix County
In my role with the Chamber I find myself at a wide variety of events and meetings with diverse groups of people. During these meetings, an equally wide variety of topics and issues are discussed. If in a short time span, the same issue is raised a couple of times, it is easy to write it off as coincidence. If it is raised three times, you are starting to get my attention.
Over the past 10 days, the same issue has been brought up at seven meetings by individuals with very different backgrounds and interests. That issue is public transit, or the lack thereof, in Hudson and the entire Wisconsin side of the St. Croix Valley.
Let me provide a bit of context if I may. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 10 metropolitan statistical areas in the State of Wisconsin with populations of greater than 100,000 people. Of those 10, all but one has a comprehensive public transit system in place. The outlier is of course the greater Hudson/River Falls/New Richmond area. Even Fond du Lac, with a population 20 percent smaller than ours, offers public transportation.
The absence of public transit in St. Croix and Pierce counties is nothing new, so why is it suddenly on the minds of so many different individuals? Here are a few explanations:
• Workforce — As you have likely heard, there are far more job vacancies in Hudson than there are available workers to fill those jobs. Hudson is a net importer of workers, meaning more people come to Hudson for work each day than leave for jobs in other places (primarily on the Minnesota side). These workers are coming in from points to the east, south, and north of Hudson in St. Croix and Pierce counties. The challenge is, if you are unable to afford and/or drive a car, you can't get to work in Hudson. Employers are recognizing there is an untapped job pool that can only be reached with the availability of public transportation.
• Parking — Unless you live close to downtown, any visit to Hudson's central business district requires the use of a car. Public transportation would allow those staying in our growing number of hotels to visit the main attractions of Hudson without having to get back in their car. Public transit would also allow those coming to events in Lakefront Park to do so without battling heavy traffic and spending valuable time searching for parking.
• Access to services — Individuals who are unable to drive are also more likely to need access to services such as a doctor. This is a growing part of the population in our area. Without public transportation, accessing these services both in Hudson and in Minnesota is exceedingly difficult.
St. Croix County commissioned a public transit feasibility study from the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Like all things produced by the WCWRPC, the study is very well done and presents some intriguing options. The Transit Planning Subcommittee has begun discussions on the feasibility study. I am hopeful these discussions will lead to action.
The solution to the public transportation needs of our area will likely be a combination of transportation options offered by public and private entities. The key will be to coordinate these options and present them in a way that is easy for a potential rider to navigate.
If you are interested in adding your voice to those calling for public transportation in our area, please contact me at 715-389-8411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We need all the people on the bus we can get.