2020 40 Under 40: Jane Sullivan

Aug. 18, 2020
Jane Sullivan, Grants & Governmental Affairs Director, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD)
  • Alma Mater: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent: My childhood home is about a block from a Metra station in a Chicago suburb. I have strong memories of sounds of train horns, waving at passengers as trains go through, and even putting pennies on the tracks. I realize now how unsafe that was… but it was such a thrill to search for your flattened penny treasure once the tracks were all clear of trains. Wisely, they’ve since installed a fence between the ice cream shop and the tracks.

Jane Sullivan began her work with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) in 2012 as a sustainability intern and was first hired as a sustainability and transportation planner before working her way up to her current role of director of grants and governmental affairs.

In 2011, several MTD staff members began pursuing an international certification for the ISO standard 14001. While six employees worked on the project for a year, Sullivan came on in 2012 and accelerated the work. She helped MTD achieve certification a year later. She continues to serve as the system’s management representative and has maintained the certification each year since.

Sullivan created and leads an internal committee dedicated to environmental sustainability. Each month, they listen to guest lecturers, visit solar farms, tour recycling centers and increase MTD’s commitment to serving as environmental stewards. Her committee of bus operators, maintenance technicians and staff members transcend silos to unite under the banner of going green. MTD achieved Gold Level Recognition from the American Public Transportation Association’s Sustainability Commitment in 2014 thanks in part to Sullivan’s efforts.

That same year, MTD underwent a complete leadership turnover. MTD’s 40-year managing director, along with six members of his leadership team, retired in the span of 18 months. MTD’s new managing director, internal candidate Karl Gnadt, selected Sullivan to take over the work he had previously done - grants and procurement. Sullivan was promoted to grant manager and sustainability planner in 2014.

In this position, she prepared and coordinated the successful grant application for the Multimodal Corridor Enhancement (MCORE) Project, a four-agency partnership to improve mobility in the core of the community. Once the funds were awarded, Sullivan continued to lead MTD’s coordination with partner agencies, design and engineering teams, contractors and messaging to her coworkers and the public.

Sullivan’s grant writing resulted in MTD being awarded a $1,450,000 Low and No Emission Grant from the FTA in 2017. This project funded the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell electric buses to and the first zero-emission transit buses to the region. Sullivan is also leading the project’s supporting pursuits including the procurement of a hydrogen fueling station, facility modifications to safely incorporate and fuel HFC buses, conduct research on vehicle technology, participate in the bus build design and lead community advocacy and awareness.

Sullivan also worked on the nearly $300-million Yards Joint Development Project, which plans to take blighted areas and transform them into a multi-sport arena, hotel and conference center, commercial center, affordable residential units and parking amenities. What started as a need to expand MTD’s 20-year intermodal transit center, has transformed into a public-private partnership that Sullivan supports and coordinates. Sullivan worked tirelessly to secure the single largest discretionary grant in MTD’s history. The $17.275-million grant was awarded in 2019 from the federal Bus & Bus Facilities Grant.

Sullivan’s adroit navigation of the halls of the state’s capitol and perfecting elevator pitches in Washington, D.C., earned her another promotion to her current position in March 2019.

Sullivan volunteers weekly through a local Junior League Chapter, and she mentors through Big Brothers and Big Sisters. She has also served as an advisory board chairman since 2014 for the local chapter of the sorority she was a member of in college.

“The thing I enjoy most about my job is my talented and dedicated coworkers. I love being part of a team that inspires, challenges and teaches each other every single day.”

“My advice, no matter your role, is to ask questions. I am a natural questioner and have felt hesitant about that in the past, but I am learning that it is actually a positive leadership quality. Questions challenge our thinking and help everyone grow, learn and stay engaged.”

“Public transit has given me the opportunity to be involved in a number of projects that will have a long-lasting positive impact on our community. I feel so fortunate for all I have learned and proud of what I have been able to contribute.”