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Connect Transit outlines how federal funding drives its green energy efforts

Eric Sorensen
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Ill., spoke Wednesday at a news conference at Connect Transit in Normal.

Bloomington-Normal's public transportation system plans to have half of its bus fleet electric by next year.

Connect Transit has received $15.8 million in federal funding in the last year to electrify its fleet as part of a plan to shift to green energy.

Connect Transit general manager David Braun said the funding also covers the cost to study developing a microgrid where the transit system can store its own renewable energy.

“We are looking for the future to be able to have the battery capacity during sunny days to be able to store that and then also then at night or during cloudy days, use that energy to charge these buses,” transit board chair Ryan Whitehouse said at a Wednesday news conference at the Connect Transit garage. “We’re not there yet, but it’s a goal of the system.”

Whitehouse noted the garage has solar panels installed on the roof to offset some of the building’s cost, adding the electric vehicles will help the agency save on diesel fuel. He said that will expand the supply available for commercial drivers and reduce the system's carbon footprint.

'Fair share'

The funding was approved by Congress via a U.S. Department of Transportation grant and earmark through U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s Statewide Electric Bus and Charging Infrastructure Program.

Durbin, D-Ill,, acknowledged the expanded use of EV technology creates a funding shortfall for infrastructure because of its reliance on gas tax revenue.

Congress is working on alternative funding models, Durbin said, but the government likely will need to recoup at least some of that money from EV drivers.

Dick Durbin
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin spoke at a Wednesday news conference at Connect Transit in Normal.

“We have time to adjust to this and I think we should,” Durbin said. “It is not unfair to say to the drivers of vehicles, even electric vehicles, are you prepared to pay your fair share so the infrastructure of America can keep up with the growth of the economy? I think that’s a reasonable request we have lived with for years,” Durbin said.

Higher taxes would not likely discourage customers from buying an electric vehicle given the high cost of gas, he said, adding, "I think there’s room to still give savings to the consumer, but accept the reality this is a pay-as-you-go system.”

Braun said Connect Transit has four electric buses now, with 13 expected to arrive this year and five more next year. Braun said it will take years before the bus system can go all-electric. He said it has 22 diesel-powered buses that can’t be replaced until 2028, noting the agency also is exploring lower-emission hydrogen fuel as an alternative.

The federal funding also enables Connect Transit to buy five microtransit vehicles. That's the new app-based, on-demand service that connects riders to fixed routes. Braun said Connect Transit hopes to buy five more vehicles in the future if the there is a demand.

The funding came before Rep. Eric Sorensen joined Congress, but the Democrat from Rockford who represents parts of McLean County said the funding is crucial in the fight against global warming and air pollution.

“There’s a health crisis in this country where we have too many children that are getting sick because of pollution,” Sorensen said. “This helps in that.”

Sorensen said he hopes to help work on green energy solutions through his work in Congress, adding he he has expressed interest in serving on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Committee on Space, Science and Technology and the House Agriculture Committee.

House Democrats have not yet announced committee assignments.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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