WILLMAR — An ambitious five-year plan for Central Community Transit includes route expansions, new technology and a new facility as potential goals between now and 2025.

The document will help guide the regional transit system in making decisions, setting priorities and addressing unmet needs over the next five years, said Jill Cahoon, a consultant with AECOM who has been working with the regional transit system over the past few months to develop the plan.

"It is meant to be a living document that can be updated and maintained over time," she said.

It also will assist the Minnesota Department of Transportation in anticipating local needs and allocating funds to public transit systems across rural Minnesota, Cahoon said.

The five-year plan was reviewed and acknowledged Friday by the joint powers board of Central Community Transit, which provides public transportation in Kandiyohi, Meeker and Renville counties.

Although the 88-page document outlines an ambitious set of goals, it's meant to be a guideline rather than a directive, Cahoon said.

In listening sessions with CCT staff, the operations board and key stakeholders, a "wish list" approach was used to identify all the possibilities and get them onto the table for discussion, she said. "You're not locked into it at all. If an item is no longer a priority, it comes out of the plan."

The list contains nearly two dozen goals ranging from additional staff to more buses and more bus routes.

Among the proposed priorities:

  • A new transit facility to replace or enhance the existing main facility in Willmar, which has outgrown current needs.
  • New buses to replace aging vehicles.
  • A new handicapped-accessible transit van to expand mobility services for riders with disabilities.
  • The addition of human resources and maintenance staff.
  • Additional transit routes to meet needs in Willmar and Litchfield.
  • New technology such as automated passenger counters to improve CCT's ability to track and assess ridership.
  • Increased "lifeline" service to smaller towns in Renville County where there's a lack of grocery stores.
  • Long-distance service to destinations such as St. Cloud and Minneapolis for medical appointments.

An aging population will likely drive increased future demand for transit services, according to the report. The report also noted a lower median income in the region and a higher percentage of people with disabilities than the state median.

The study was funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation as part of an effort to spur comprehensive planning by non-metro transit systems across the state, with a particular focus on unmet needs.

Members of the Central Community Transit joint powers board made it clear Friday that their acceptance of the five-year plan does not commit them to carrying out every priority on the list.

It will be important to distinguish between needs and wants, said Randy Kramer of the Renville County Board of Commissioners.

"Are you satisfying the needs or can the private sector address that? Those are the questions we need to be asking," he said.

But joint powers board members also said they recognize the value of planning for the future.

The study provides "a lot to chew on," said Corky Berg, a Kandiyohi County Commissioner.

"I think it's a very good place to start," he said. "I think we have to look forward."