IL: Connect Transit Wants Downtown Station

May 24--BLOOMINGTON -- Connect Transit wants to build a $1.5 million intermodal station in downtown Bloomington to provide bus riders there a heated shelter, real-time bus tracking displays and ticket vending machines.

After staff at the bus agency took U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., on a tour of Connect Transit headquarters at 351 Wylie Drive, Normal, General Manager Andrew Johnson said the project would enhance the downtown bus transfer point in front of the McLean County Law and Justice Center and the Health Department.

"I think the town of Normal set the tone when they built Uptown Station for the value of infrastructure at transfer points. Downtown Bloomington on the Front Street location is just a couple of shelters and not a very inviting place," Johnson said. "Our proposal is not to build another Uptown Station. It's not going to be an enclosed structure but it will be a structure that provides ... a very inviting area where people can wait for the bus, where people feel safe, secure and feel very good about utilizing public transportation."

McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson said the county is willing to work with Connect Transit should the agency require additional right-of-way, but the station essentially would replace existing bus shelters along Front Street.

The downtown connection point currently launches about 436,662 rides per year and connects nine local bus routes.

Connect Transit is requesting $1.3 million in federal TIGER (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) funds to pay for the project. The remaining $300,000 would come from annual contributions the city already has provided for capital projects.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said the proposed project could help improve the local economy and ease other transportation issues.

"To the extent to which public transit is more available and convenient, then we all win," said Renner, listing reduced congestion, emissions and parking issues as benefits.

Davis called Connect Transit "a diamond" and a cost-effective transportation option. "It's a partnership between the fares ... and the local revenue sources and state sources and also the federal government," he said. "I hope that the federal (Department of Transportation) agrees that this is a project that should be funded and one that we hopefully can see come to fruition very soon."

Johnson also spoke with Davis about what he sees as overly burdensome regulations for transportation infrastructure procurement. Connect Transit has been working for two years to develop a contract to provide 25 to 30 new buses over the next five years.

"The federally regulated paperwork process to buy new buses should not take two years," Davis said. "How do we change policies to make the costs of following those rules and regulations less for Connect Transit so more money can be spent on getting bus service to passengers?"

Copyright 2014 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.