Some members of the Connect Transit board are taking their chair to task for pushing a meeting with the Bloomington City Council that backfired and potentially damaged the case for a bus transfer station in downtown Bloomington.
Connect Transit Board member Jennifer McDade told Chair Mike McCurdy the meeting was premature and there is a lot of education to do about a transfer station before the issue comes back.
“The people in the room were not in support and the people that were not in the room were not in support. Now you can argue that’s because the catalyst project was controversial or the library was controversial or because downtown is controversial and all those things would be true. But transit was on the table. So, to assume that we have overwhelming support for this, I think, is a blind spot,” said McDade.
Three aldermen refused to attend that meeting, and two others voiced opposition to a catalyst project involving the library, Connect Transit, and the city perhaps on the site of the current Market Street parking deck.
As a matter of disclosure, McCurdy is also GLT's program director. McCurdy is a Town of Normal appointee to the bus board.
Normal City Manager Mark Peterson urged Connect Transit not to engage directly again with the Bloomington City Council at present.
“It’s not up to the (Connect Transit) board members to communicate, at least initially, with the (Bloomington) council. That’s the staff’s job in Bloomington. They’re perfectly capable of that. At some point they may want to engage the board in conversation but I think initially, let Steve (City Manager Rasmussen) determine how and when he wants to bring that forward,” said Peterson.
McCurdy asserted there was a foundation for talking with the Bloomington council about a transfer station. He said the idea is in Connect Transit’s long-term plan, something shared with Bloomington. Solving problems created by the existing crowded transfer point in downtown Bloomington is also in Bloomington’s plans, he said. And a consultant’s report for the bus system noted a couple years ago, McCurdy pointed out, that a high percentage of bus riders originate in downtown Bloomington, which makes a covered transfer station there a good idea.
“We have done some due diligence,” said McCurdy.
Peterson also acknowledged as recently as two years ago, Normal supported a federal TIGER grant application for a downtown transfer station in Bloomington, something the Bloomington council was aware of and bought into at the time. That application, Peterson said, included numerous letters of support from the business community indicating widespread buy-in for the concept.
McDade noted general awareness of the issue has not penetrated nearly as far.
“Someone will need to take the lead in explaining this to the community. I just don’t know that the public is there,” said McDade.
Board member John Bowman said 5 percent of the public uses the service in Bloomington-Normal.
“The rest are paying for it, but they don’t use it. Will they go for more amenities? If they can recoup money and bring federal tax dollars back to the community, perhaps,” said Bowman.
Presentation from Farnsworth
As part of a presentation from the engineering firm Farnsworth Group, Farnsworth Vice President Aaron Quick said a transfer center would involve perhaps two or three city blocks and allow 10 buses to dock at the same time and allow people to move to a different bus.
Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne said that fits the “pulse” system that collects buses at two separate transfer points to allow easy dissemination. Thorne said the case for a transfer station instead of more frequent buses is greater predictability and less waiting time for riders who don’t have to find multiple places to catch a bus on a different line.
Peterson flatly said a transfer station will not be built without federal funds and if there is a hint that not all parties in the area are on board, there will be no grant.
Thorne said it is possible a transfer center could be a secondary topic of the upcoming One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, though not a full-fledged ask.
Quick of Farnsworth said the first step in Urbana’s effort to build a transfer center was an intergovernmental agreement between the bus system and the municipality. After that came discussions about siting and about how the project could move forward. Then both sides agreed to try to bring a developer to the table. Urbana is now four years into the agreement and “finally working on it in earnest,” said Quick.
There was no such agreement in place between Bloomington and Connect Transit prior to the meeting last week on the potential catalyst project, though transit and city officials have explored at least eight city-owned pieces of land as potential sites.
Connect Transit Board Member Ryan Whitehouse noted while the previous attempt to gain support from Bloomington aldermen failed, Connect Transit still needs to have discussion with the city separate from the parking deck or library issues.
“It has to be on our own merits, and rehashing that (meeting last week) too much does not help us,” said Whitehouse.
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