Bloomington Normal's bus system could have a downtown Bloomington transfer center in about five years.
That's if the capital improvement plan approved by the Connect Transit board Tuesday becomes reality.
Connect Transit Executive Director Isaac Thorne said use of an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) short-term loan program to help buy 12 electric buses next year will also help save money for the transfer center.
"We're going to use IDOT funding for 65 percent, and then we're going to have 35 percent from the federal government. That allows us to free up local money we receive every year from the Town of Normal and City of Bloomington to build up our cash reserves," said Thorne.
Thorne said the reserves would, in turn, serve as a match for federal grants to build the transfer center.
The proposal hinges on a method transit programs in several states use to shift state operating dollar grants into capital use. IDOT debt service requires Connect Transit to take out a short term (60 to 90 day) revolving credit loan from a bank to then get reimbursement for an expense.
"We are allocated close to $12 million. We only use $9 million of that. We have $3 million that we cannot right now use on operations because we do not have the local revenue to match the other 35 percent that we are missing. So, instead of using it on operations, we are going to use it on capital projects," said Thorne.
A transfer center would cost an estimated $10-14 million. Thorne said a feasibility study is under way. Connect Transit is also working with the City of Bloomington to identify prospective sites for the facility.
Thorne said potential public-private partnerships could also change the cost figure if the facility were to be combined with some other use.
"I don't know if we are going to build it in 2023, but our plan is to build a downtown transfer center. OK, how do we fund this? We will start looking at that. And as long as it is in the capital improvement plan, it will be at the top of our mind and we will eventually get it done," said Thorne.
The capital plan also includes bus stop improvements.
He said he hopes Connect Transit can accumulate $9 million in reserves by 2023, which would allow the service to use $6 million on a transfer center. Thorne said he is also hoping for other sources of funds, but the more options Connect Transit has, the better.
He said the only way to accumulate reserves is from city and town contributions because Connect Transit does not have taxing authority.
"We can't draw down our federal funds and put it in a bank account because that's against regulations. We can't keep additional IDOT funds, because they only reimburse us expenses," said Thorne.
Average reserves, Thorne said, are about $5 million, though that fluctuates every quarter.
He said Connect Transit is hoping the new buses will arrive in October or November 2019.
As a matter of disclosure, GLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is the head of the Connect Transit board.
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