The federal government’s top mass transit official stopped in Bloomington on Friday to tout $12 million in grants won by Connect Transit and other Illinois agencies which she says will help chip away at the country’s aging fleet of buses.
Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said Connect Transit is “very forward-looking” in its plan to use $6 million in FTA grant money to replace 12 diesel buses with battery-powered, zero emission buses. The grant was first announced last month.
“It’s simple: If buses are the backbone of public transportation, you must have safe and efficient buses,” Williams said. “A bus that’s reached the end of its useful life costs more to operate and maintain, is out of service more often, and makes the entire bus system less reliable.”
Williams said about one-third of the buses across the country will be need to be replaced in the short term. To address that, Williams said the federal government has invested $715 million in the past six months alone to modernize buses and bus infrastructure. But there remains a backlog; this latest round of FTA funding will dole out $366 million to 107 projects in 50 states and territories. But grant applicants had sought $2 billion in funding.
“It is going to be hard to catch up,” Williams told GLT. “$715 million is a lot of money going out into the industry, but there is a lot of need as well. And so we’ll continue to partner with local agencies to get closer to a state of good repair.”
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that 40 percent of buses and 23 percent of rail assets were listed in marginal or poor condition with a backlog of $90 billion in deferred maintenance and replacement.
The $12 million in total FTA grants for Illinois includes $4.6 million for the City of Decatur to replace buses. The Illinois Department of Transportation will also get $2.3 million to replace buses and improve bus facilities around the state, according to the FTA.
Williams spoke Friday at the McLean County Museum of History, to a roomful of local officials and Connect Transit employees. Also on hand were U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood and Rodney Davis, the congressmen whose districts include Bloomington-Normal.
Davis, a Taylorville Republican, said he has over 100,000 college students in his 13th Congressional District, many of whom rely on mass transit.
“Mass transit is crucial for them to be able to get around their communities that they’ve chosen to come to and invest their money and their family’s money to get a good education,” Davis said.
LaHood noted that Connect Transit received another $1.5 million federal grant in 2017 for three electric buses and solar arrays to offset the energy cost.
“That is significant,” LaHood said of the winning of consecutive competitive grant awards. “Success breeds success.”
Editor's note: Connect Transit board chair Mike McCurdy is also GLT's program director.
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