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County's transit system expands over the border

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HARTINGTON — Cedar County Transit will be crossing borders and expanding its services for a pilot project.

The Hartington-based transit will expand its service boundary past Cedar County by 30 miles and start offering rides in Knox County beginning as early as January, including Bloomfield, Wausa and Crofton.

“They call all the time, ‘Can you please come and get us?’ And all of those are in Knox County,” said Corrine Donahue from the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s (NDOT) mobility management team.

Two service routes are also planned once per week to Yankton and Norfolk.

The pilot program to expand services into Knox County was made possible by a $97,800 grant by the National Rural Transportation Assistance Program awarded in September. Cedar County Transit was one of 19 in the country awarded the grant and the only one in Nebraska out of 76 applications.

Donahue and other members of the NDOT mobility management team gave a presentation to Cedar County commissioners last week, outlining its next operational steps and marketing plans. The second phase of the project would evaluate ridership after 30, 60 and 90 days and then make adjustments to service routes and schedules as needed.

Donahue said that one of the reasons Cedar County Transit was awarded the national grant is because of its increase in ridership which sits at about 56 rides per week currently. Most of the riders are age 65 or older and most of the trips are to medical appointments.

“I don’t think there’s been any argument that it’s been a success here in Cedar County,” said Commissioner David McGregor. “It’s come a long way.”

With the Knox County expansion, more drivers may need to be hired. The commissioners approved the purchase of two new vans for Cedar County Transit and acknowledged current supply issues with a potential wait for the new vehicles of up to two years.

“It took us 13 months to get our last transit vehicle,” said Transit Manager Nikki Pinkelman.

County Clerk Dave Dowling expressed concerns about how Cedar County residents may be affected if there is an overwhelming demand from Knox County.

The transit cannot prioritize rides to certain people over others, but Pinkelman said usually she’s able to employ some creative scheduling solutions to accommodate all riders.

“Our goal is to never turn down service,” Donahue said.

Commissioner Craig Bartels said Knox County is getting a free ride - quite literally - and expressed concerns about what happens when the grant runs out.

At that point, Cedar and Knox counties may come to an agreement to continue to provide services in Knox County with Knox paying for its share of costs. Another scenario may include discontinuing service all together to Knox County, or Knox County may decide to start its own transit program.

“They would probably rather purchase service from you than start their own system,” said Bill Bivin, NDOT’s statewide mobility manager. “That’s hiring people, that’s buying vehicles, that’s getting a facility. These are things that you already have. It would make more sense and be more cost effective for them to purchase service from you.”

Ultimately, the final decision will lie with Cedar County, Donahue said.

There’s a lot of unknowns as the expanded service gets ready to launch.

“That’s why we call it a pilot program. We’ll see what happens,” McGregor said.

In other news, County Emergency Manager Kevin Garvin received authorization to purchase equipment to upgrade the county’s 911 infrastructure or “back end” equipment with the most extensive change from copper wiring to fiber optics. The county intends to contract with Motorola for a cost of $83,000 with the funding already available.

Garvin said he will order the equipment soon to avoid price increases and delays due to supply chain shortages. The timeline to install the equipment is summer 2022.

The county commissioners also:

- Reviewed a list and map of structurally deficient bridges in the county.

- Interviewed Neal Thoene and Justin Heikes for the position of weed superintendent.

- Heard from resident Jerry Stewart about the potential to shut down part of a road running along his property on the Dixon County line. Commissioners explained the process which included each county doing their own research, three weeks of publicized notices and two public hearings (one for each county).

- Approved an interlocal agreement with Lewis & Clark Natural Resource District, Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District and Dixon County for a hazard communication plan.

- Approved right-of-way permits.

Discussed potential annual meeting dates in January, CPR training for courthouse employees, and the upcoming Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association conference.


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