It turns out the idea of bringing a bus to Baldwin is nothing new. Jim Oliver and Jeff Holm have been working for over a year on the prospect, studying what other cities have done and talking to various bus lines to gauge interest in a commuter bus that would run from Milaca to Elk River where passengers can take the Northstar line to downtown Minnepolis.
“I checked with the bus company in [Princeton,] and they were excited about it,” Jim said, but there are still obstacles to overcome.
In order for the service to be cost-effective for passengers, cities and townships partaking in the service would need to help supplement the cost. So far Princeton and Baldwin are willing to help, but Mille Lacs County is not.
“When I first started it was the first week the Northstar ran,” Jim said. Now that the line is more popular, he thinks there may be more interest in a commuter bus.
As Jim continues planning the nuts and bolts of scheduling and cost, they are also pursuing broader goals.
They’re hoping to host a transportation summit, drawing together local city and township officials, various transportation experts and politicians this summer.
“I think it would be extraordinary that a township would be the one to step forward … instead of it being one of the cities or some other group,” Jeff said, “It’s a little more grass roots.”
Jeff envisions using the Princeton park-and-ride as the bus stop at first, but has big plans for an eventual commuting hub.
He’d like to use a chunk of land at the intersection of County Road 9 and I-169 to create a transportation hub and nearby town square. The hub would be accessible by trails that are already in the works, including a trail along the old railway corridor, so commuters could choose to ride their bike down Baldwin’s trail system to get to the hub.
Additionally, Jeff would like to see the town square become home to a few businesses and other amenities, all in walking or biking distance of the transportation hub and trail system.
Right now, it can be hard to entice commuters to spend locally when they pass myriad big box stores on the commute home. Having a downtown next to a trail system and commuter hub would encourage local spending.