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Connect Transit Gets $1.5M Grant For Electric Buses, Solar Panels

Rodney Davis speaks at podium
Charlie Schlenker
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis during a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at Connect Transit in Bloomington.

Connect Transit will receive a $1.5 million federal grant to buy zero-emission battery electric buses and install solar panels at its maintenance facility.

The grant was announced Tuesday during a visit from U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.

Interim General Manager Isaac Thorne thanked Davis and U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, and Sens. Tammy Duckworth Dick Durbin, both Illinois Democrats, for supporting the competitive grant.

Davis said he is always pleased when he can work on something in a bipartisan way.

"This is a nationwide program and Connect Transit was competing against every transit district in the nation. That's a good investment of federal tax dollars," said Davis.

Davis said he believes the future of transit will involve diverse kinds of buses fitted for specific local circumstances. He said he has seen other districts get natural gas buses.

"Those are the types of long-term visions and programs that happen long before the application is written and turned in. This long-term vision that the board had here locally is something to be commended," said Davis.

Thorne said the buses will arrive in 2019.

"(They will) replace a bus fleet that averages over 14 years old and has over 600,000 miles. These electric buses will allow Connect Transit to save over 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel over the next 12 years," said Thorne.

More than half of the 42 buses in Connect Transit's fleet are past their rated lifespan, said Thorne.

The electric vehicles are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 380 tons per year.

The grant will also pay for solar cells at the Connect Transit maintenance facility in Bloomington.

"The installation of solar panels will take place in 2018 and allow us to produce 75 percent of our energy demands in the summer and offset the cost of charging the electric buses," said Thorne.

Thorne said the buses will have a 251 mile operating range and be fully charged in three to four hours.
Connect Transit ridership is up 17.6 percent from last August.

The funding is part of a competitive grant authorized under the FAST Act, the long-term highway bill passed by Congress in 2015.

As a matter of disclosure, GLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is the chair of the Connect Transit board.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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