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Connect Transit Eyes Locations For Downtown Transfer Center

A potential Connect Transit transfer center in Downtown Bloomington is still on the table.

Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne said on GLT’s Sound Ideas he’s working with city staff to find three to five locations they can put into a request for proposal for a feasibility study.

“The most important part of that whole process will be (asking ourselves), how will our current routes be able to get in and out of that facility and keep their same timing in place?” Thorne said.

Connect Transit’s leaders say their existing transfer station on Front Street outside the McLean County Law and Justice Center is insufficient. It serves up to 1,500 riders daily, but it can’t accommodate enough buses and lacks other infrastructure. It’s the second-most used transfer center in Bloomington-Normal.

Two of the locations being considered for a new transfer center are the Market Street parking garage and a location north of the city-owned Grossinger Motors Arena. The goal is to fit 10 buses in the transfer center at the same time to allow for easy and quick transfers. The system is currently staggered, with quick transfers except for two routes that lag behind.

Thorne said infrastructure that allows for 10 buses to come in simultaneously makes travel more convenient for customers.

"It makes it a lot easier for customers, and it's more inviting for people who maybe never tried transit before."

“It makes it a lot easier for customers, and it’s more inviting for people who maybe never tried transit before,” Thorne said. “When we moved into (Uptown Station), we were running around 1,500 boardings a day, and now we’re up to 2,100 boardings a day. So we saw a large influx in customers wanting to use Uptown Station because of that infrastructure. I feel like that’ll happen in Downtown Bloomington when we get that infrastructure in.”

A downtown transfer hub at the Market Street garage location was included in a proposed downtown "catalyst" project last fall. That joint library-transit project, recommended for exploration by the Downtown Task Force, ultimately failed to gain traction with the Bloomington City Council.

Funding Mix

Thorne said the transfer center could cost anywhere from $10 million to $14 million. But that's just an estimate since the conceptual design didn’t have a specific site in mind.

A combination of local, state and federal funds would be needed to make the transfer center happen. Thorne said there’s a lot of competition for federal funding, and local funding is necessary to be considered.

“Typically with federal interest, they’re going to want to see a large local share component,” Thorne said. “So if it’s costing $10 million, they’re going to want to see at least ($4 million or $5 million) of that coming from the local.”

Connect Transit has saved $6 million in funds it has received from the city of Bloomington and the town of Normal. Thorne said receiving extra federal funding is vital because 72 percent of the $2.8 million it receives each year is spent on operations, leaving only 28 percent for capital purchases.

“That’s one of our issues right now that we’re dealing with … to ensure that we can purchase buses and possibly build a downtown transfer center in the future, because at some point in time, probably around 2023, we’re going to run out of federal money. We’re going to use all of that $2.8 million allocation on operations,” Thorne said.

Other transfer center needs include a designated spot for each route, a passenger waiting area, real-time bus information on routes, arrivals and departures, and a customer service area.

You can also listen to the full GLT interview:

GLT's interview with Thorne.

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

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Dania is a reporter at GLT, as well as a student at Illinois State University.
WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.