Connect Transit moves to 2nd option for a downtown transfer center
Connect Transit has shifted focus on plans to build an $18 million bus transfer center in downtown Bloomington.
General Manager David Braun said it now the appears the former Pantagraph site will be too costly to rehab.
“A private developer would not have the concerns that we do since we are using federal funds,” Braun said on WGLT's Sound Ideas. “It presents a challenge in trying to maintain the historic nature of those buildings while still trying to build a modern transit center around those.”
Connect Transit now considers the nearby Market Street parking garage as its top choice for a new transfer center, pending results on an environmental study.
Braun said the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will take longer than first projected once attention shifted to the parking garage location. He said the probe could take anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on what it finds. The study assesses a location’s physical, biological and human environment.
The parking garage was one of three options the Connect Transit Board initially considered for the transfer center.
Braun said the property's steep slope can be asset by adding parking on the roof that can be accessed from Monroe Street.
“We would build our transit center in a two-story building and then above that we would have parking available. We’ll be working with the city to build a parking deck above that site,” said Braun, adding Connect Transit wants to add retail to the Market Street location and keep the post office location on site.
Face mask requirement lifted
Face masks are no longer required on Connect Transit buses. Braun said the transit agency lifted its requirement after a judge struck down the federal mandate for masks on public transportation.
Brown said Connect Transit went through a lot of masks in recent weeks because many people stopped wearing them after Gov. JB Pritzker lifted the indoor mask mandate.
“There were some conflicts in that people just didn’t want to wear them anymore. They didn’t understand the reason why we were mandating it while the rest of the state was not."
Braun said drivers didn't have many problems with non-compliant riders, but he said they had to remind passengers Connect Transit was simply following federal rules at the time.
Braun said Connect Transit still encourages passengers to wear a mask if they are feeling ill.
New services and routes
Connect Transit plans to roll out several new services this year to make their buses more accessible in parts of Bloomington-Normal.
The transit agency plans to add a route to link downtown Bloomington and Uptown Normal with Rivian Automotive, where thousands of workers are building electric vehicles.
“I think it’s expanding opportunities for our existing ridership beyond just those Rivian employees,” said Braun, adding the route also would include OSF PromptCare on Rivian Motorway.
Braun said Connect Transit plans to work with Rivian on a pass program that would enable its employees to ride for free. The route would include stops in downtown Bloomington and Uptown.
Connect Transit also plans to offer a ride sharing service to the thousands of people who commute into Bloomington-Normal each day.
Braun said the transit agency would sponsor vehicles through a program run by the rental car company Enterprise that would drive four or more people who want to share a daily ride to work or school and save on gas.
“We’re allowing even the smallest employers to participate in this program, by coordinating where their employees live to come to work at about the same time and leave work at about the same time,” said Braun, noting State Farm in Bloomington previously ran its own carpool service.
Braun said riders will be able to sign up through an app and will get connected with people who have similar routes and schedules.
And, Connect Transit plans to roll out a new service to help people who need a ride to the bus stop.
Braun said the transit agency plans to start micro-transit this summer. He said previous route cuts left some of Bloomington-Normal’s newer neighborhoods with only one access point to a main road.
“It makes sense that people can’t access the regular fixed-route service because they would have to walk a quarter to a half mile within their neighborhood just to get to their connection point,” Braun said.
He said micro-transit will be available on a mobile app, but it might not be ready to until next year.
The new services are included in the transit agency's new budget. The transit board will vote May 24 on the proposed $17.5 million spending plan. That's about a 17% increase over this year's budget.
Brown said increased labor, fuel and insurance costs factor into that increase. He said the new services will help the transit agency secure additional federal grants because the services will increase vehicle mileage.
Staff will present the budget to the Connect Transit board on April 26.