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Planners and sponsors would be smart to quickly get on the bus to improve transportation and employment opportunities for an underserved and growing population in our region.

For decades, we’ve seen growing areas like Holmen not connected to La Crosse by a single transit system — despite promises of improved transit, park-and-rides or other smart solutions.

We’ve seen growing regional employers such as Ashley Furniture and the Tomah Veterans Administration in need of better transportation for employees and, in the VA’s case, clients. Keep in mind that the current VA shuttle to Tomah does not accommodate wheelchairs — a shortcoming that needs to be rectified for the good of our veterans.

And, there’s clearly a model that’s working elsewhere in our region — a model that needs be expanded.

So far, the Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit service has provided great service from La Crosse to such places as Viroqua and Prairie du Chien.

The SMRT bus to the south has grown ridership by 60 percent.

Last year, that translated into 21,000 one-way trips.

That’s a lot of people moving around our region without a car or truck — and that’s a positive result.

Sadly, there’s no such option for people going north and east.

But transportation planners say that expanding regional transit to Arcadia and Tomah is feasible — and it’s long past time for our leaders to figure this out on a regional, collaborative basis.

La Crosse County planner Charlie Handy, who helped study the issue, says the expansion of bus service would be a wise investment.

It would cost about $300,000 to buy three additional buses and about $268,000 per year to operate them, according to the study.

The good news is that state and federal grants could cover 80 percent of the capital costs, and fares and grants could pay more than half of the operating costs.

That means corporate sponsors and local municipalities would have to pay just more than $100,000 per year.

But that investment would mean much less wear and tear on our roads — a growing problem in Wisconsin.

As Handy says, “We spend a ton more on roads for single-occupancy vehicles. People don’t realize how much that’s subsidized. There’s a lot of local property tax that goes into all of those roads that sit empty 90 percent of the day.”

Of course, some of those cars would sit in places like downtown La Crosse, which already is struggling with the cost of providing parking space.

Adding more regionalized bus service to the north and east is the smart solution — and it’s long overdue.

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