In rural America, one of the most gaping public service holes comes in the area of public transportation.
It seems there is a misguided assumption that the need for public transit is driven by traffic congestion, so it isn’t a significant issue in small towns. The truth, however, is that residents in rural areas also rely on public transportation. They need it to get to their jobs, schools and hospitals. Some people can’t afford their own vehicles at a particular time in life, or for various reasons, are unable to drive. Certain segments of a community, especially the elderly and disabled, desperately need rides to get to appointments, shop and socialize.
While there might not be bumper-to-bumper traffic in small towns, the travel distances can be longer than in urban areas because there aren’t as many options for health care, shopping and other services.
That’s why we’re happy to hear that the Lee-Ogle Transportation System will undertake a more than $1 million expansion project. The upgrades will include a large maintenance garage, wash bay and more parking space for the LOTS main office at 210 Progress Drive in Dixon. It’s also good news that the project will be paid for by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Anyone doubting the importance of public transportation in rural areas need only look at the numbers. In fiscal year 2019, LOTS provided more than 83,400 rides in the two counties it serves. That tells only part of the story. LOTS is also helping to connect the area with larger population centers. It oversees the Greyhound Connect route along Interstate 88, between Chicago and Davenport, Iowa. There are stops in Naperville, Aurora, DeKalb, Rochelle, Dixon and East Moline.
In January, the agency took over a new route that stretches along Interstates 90, 39 and 74. That route stops in Chicago, Elgin, Rockford, Rochelle, Oglesby, Normal, Champaign and Danville.
The agency plans to break ground Monday and the work is expected to take about 4 months.
Education, government and business leaders throughout the Sauk Valley have continually cited rural population loss as one of their biggest concerns when planning for future growth.
If rural communities want to survive and thrive, the quality-of-life formula for keeping people here and enticing new residents includes many of the same elements urban areas prioritize. People want work and educational opportunities, affordable housing, access to health care, and places to play. Transportation is a common thread in all of those offerings – all, not just some, of the people in a community need a safe and affordable way to get to all of them.