Taking the Ride

the Valley could get a Regional Transit Authority

Emma O'Brien, photos by Andrea Paulseth

A WHOLE LOT OF FUSS OVER A BUS (SYSTEM). Legislation passed in 2009 provides for the creation of a Regional Transit Authority board in Eau Claire County by claiming a 0.5 percent sales tax increase.

The Chippewa Valley, a metro area made up of Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, and smaller towns and villages, had a 2000 population of 148,337. The Valley spans across county lines, but what about the services regional residents depend on? A civic work group is studying the formation of a Regional Transit Authority that would connect transportation in the region. 

      Regional transportation has been gaining popularity by creating coalitions across city, county, and even state lines to develop transit that serves a larger population. By doing so, residents are able to travel farther for work, shopping, and tourism without depending on a car. Wisconsin legislation passed in 2009 provides for the creation of a Regional Transit Authority board in Eau Claire County by dedicating a 0.5 percent sales tax increase to fund regional transportation. At present, no such board has been created and no official plans are in place, but the work group has begun the first step of the process.

      Formed from the Clear Vision project (a county program to promote sustainability), the RTA Civic Work Group consists of volunteers with a stake in transportation who are studying the need for regional transit and contacting stakeholders. Stan Carpenter, former co-chair, defines stakeholders as “people with a vested interest in regional transit.” Group member Jeremy Gragert expands that to include citizen groups (like the elderly or poor) and organizations (like schools, employers, and the airport). The group’s goal is to talk to as many stakeholders as they can to identify the transit needs. They will use their findings to submit a report of recommendations to the county, who will be responsible for forming a board, inviting Chippewa County to the process, and beginning implementation. 

     The work group is also looking at RTAs elsewhere, taking notes on what has and hasn’t worked. The nearest example of an RTA is the Twin Cities, where public transportation such as the bus, light rail, and commuter rail systems are all funded and managed by the Metropolitan Council, a coalition of seven counties.