U.S. mass transit leader touts bus spending at Bloomington stop
BLOOMINGTON — Connect Transit is far from alone in needing to overhaul its bus fleet, the nation's top mass transit leader said Friday in Bloomington.
"We estimate that a third of full-size (U.S. mass transit) buses will need to be replaced in just the near future," said K. Jane Williams, acting administrator for the Federal Transit Administration. "That's why over the last six months alone, the U.S. Department of Transportation ... has invested $715 million to modernize our buses and our bus infrastructure."
Williams stopped at the McLean County Museum of History to tout Illinois' piece of that investment: $15 million in funding from two grants that will benefit systems not only in Bloomington-Normal but also in Decatur, Chicago, Galesburg, Macomb and Quincy.
"FTA received applications for 339 eligible projects totaling $2 billion in requests for funding," said Williams. "Each project selected demonstrated an urgent need for assistance and a plan for how it would be used to improve safety and reliability."
The Twin Cities' share, a $6 million bus and bus facilities grant that will let Connect Transit buy electric buses and save up for a downtown Bloomington transfer station, was announced last month. Connect Transit officials are now working on installing solar arrays in advance of getting those buses in 2019.
Decatur is getting $4.6 million to replace aging buses, and Galesburg, Macomb and Quincy will get part of $2.3 million for buses and bus facilities through the Illinois Department of Transportation. Chicago Transit Authority got $2.3 million in low- or no-emission grant funding for electric buses.
"When you look at that map (of grant recipients), you're going to see a lot of investment in small urban areas like Bloomington-Normal," said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican, who joined Williams at the event. "To have somebody from the U.S. Department of Transportation come out to our communities and see what their investments do ... is a great chance for us."
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Dunlap Republican, thanked Connect Transit for submitting a competitive grant application and local officials, including Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner and Normal Mayor Chris Koos, for giving the system local support. Both cities fund Connect Transit through sales tax proceeds; the majority of the system's funding comes from the state.
Since early 2017, when the system needed to replace more than half its 42-bus fleet but lacked the money, Connect Transit has gotten enough state and federal money to buy a dozen new buses over the next three years and won't need to replace any more buses until 2024.
Connect Transit also got a $1.45 million bus and bus facilities grant in 2017.