The St. Croix County Transit Commission met Jan. 14 and for the first time gained the perspective of what college students think of the region.
Marina Onken, Interim Dean for the College of Economics and Business for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, addressed the commission at the Highway Department in Baldwin.
Onken started by saying the consensus of international students who are UW-RF students at either the main campus in River Falls or the Hudson Hub, don’t have transportation.
“They love the area, they love River Falls, but they can’t get to Hudson or the rest of the region,” Onken said. “They call it ‘A beautiful prison’”.
Commission members asked Onken if it’s possible for UW-RF to provide transportation between the Hudson Hub and the UW-RF main campus. She said it wasn’t possible with their resources.
Onken also said times have changed from 25-30 years ago, in which families had more financial flexibility to provide a car for their college-bound child.
“The ability to connect cities is a solution for economic development for the region,” Onken said.
Onken’s point was backed up even more when stories were told about businesses on the Wisconsin side of the river having to bus people in from the Twin Cities to cover shifts.
Added Hudson Chamber of Commerce President Mary Claire Olson Potter: “We don’t have to start from scratch…We shouldn’t penalize people who choose not to drive.”
While some commission members thought connecting cities via transit would come down to politics, Hudson Mayor Rich O’Connor had a differing take.
“How are you going to pay for it?”, he said, noting Hudson was getting close to levy limits.
It was stated Dunn County, especially the City of Menomonie has a busing system which works in the city and also transports people to Eau Claire. Commission Chair Dave Ostness said he was already going to meet with Dunn County officials and would gather information on their system.
Beside the Dunn County option, St. Croix County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Bill Rubin told the story of his college-bound son attending St. Cloud State University and who didn’t have a car.
Rubin said his son took a bus from St. Cloud to the beginning of the Northstar Light Rail in Big Lake. His son took the Light Rail to Target Field and then got on the Green Line where Rubin met up with him at University Avenue in St. Paul. The total cost for his son was $6.50.
“I’m not suggesting light rail,” Rubin said. “But I believe there is some system in place that could work.”
The St. County Transit Commission is part of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, which has a goal of working with Union Pacific to create a fully, privately run rail system. Four trains would run daily each way between Eau Claire and the St. Paul Union Depot, with stops in Menomonie, Baldwin, Hudson/River Falls and Stillwater.