Region’s SMRT Bus ridership increasing

By Ted Pennekamp

Brian Law, the economic development planner for the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission (MRRPC), spoke during the Crawford County Board meeting on Tuesday about the increasing popularity of the SMRT Bus routes connecting Prairie du Chien to several other communities.
SMRT stands for Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit, and Law said that ridership continues to increase. He said that the SMRT Bus routes began in December of 2012 with 90 one-way riders. In January of 2013 the number of riders increased to 450. In February, it was 964. February had a free ride week which helped to increase ridership. In March, there were 873 riders. In April, there were 917, and in May there were 975.
Law noted that approximately 75 percent of the riders are employees of various businesses going to and from work. Ten to 15 percent are college or technical college students. Roughly 10 percent ride the bus for other reasons.
Law also said that two routes from Prairie du Chien to La Crosse were added on May 28. One route goes along Highway 35 and the other route goes through Viroqua.
“The whole purpose is to serve our riders well,” said Law.
“Hop on board and give it a try,” said MRRPC Transportation Planner Peter Fletcher, who noted that the buses have internet onboard and bike racks for bicyclists.
In other business, the County Board unanimously approved of the county’s participation in forming the Western Wisconsin Economic Development Fund.
“This is a great opportunity for Crawford County,” said Brian Law, economic development planner for MRRPC, during his presentation to the County Board.
Law said that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has developed an initiative which seeks to consolidate the local Community Development Block Grant Business Revolving Loan Funds that exist in Pierce, Pepin, Buffalo, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon, Trempealeau, and Crawford counties into a regional loan fund.
The Western Wisconsin Economic Development Fund will implement regional financing programs and policies that encourage local governments to work together, increase administrative efficiency and improve local capacity for economic development.
Law said that regional revolving loan funds (RLFs) remove federal restrictions that are in place for individual RLFs so that there is broader and more flexible use of them. They also increase the pool of capital in order to further help area businesses. Regional RLFs give the ability to leverage other federal and state funds by utilizing pooled funds as match and grant application costs. RLFs give the ability to spread the risk of lending over a greater area. They allow for local governments and economic development entities to collaborate on opportunities. RLFs provide for a broader range of innovative investment and financing opportunities, and reduce administrative burdens.

** In further business, the County Board unanimously approved of a 1.5 percent salary increase for county employees from July through December.

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