BLOOMINGTON — Count Bloomington Alderman Scott Black among those ready for a downtown Connect Transit station.
"It's frankly humiliating to go from downtown's transfer station to uptown's transfer station," said Black. "The need for this is undeniable."
After securing a grant for a feasibility study and ruling out a partnership for a site shared with Bloomington Public Library, the Bloomington-Normal bus system is now asking city officials to suggest potential sites as the six-month study kicks off.
"What we don't want to do as Connect Transit is go out and look at sites, and then (when) we come back to the council to say, 'We want to build here eventually,' (hear), 'We don't want you to,'" Isaac Thorne, Connect Transit's general manager, told Bloomington City Council during a meeting Monday. "We want to get your approval to move forward."
Thorne and representatives from the Farnsworth Group engineering and design firm presented a plan for a theoretical transfer center that would take up at least one city block in what Thorne called "the buckle" — a downtown area bounded by Olive Street to the south, Madison Street to the west, Locust Street to the north and East Street to the east.
"We'd like to have some patron spaces — waiting areas, restrooms, lobby, et cetera — to make the experience for patrons of Connect Transit an enjoyable one, and then as well we'd like to have some staff areas for those working at Connect Transit," said Ed Barry, who worked on the plan with Farnsworth.
"Obviously we would also need support spaces in terms of mechanical, electrical and so forth, and then lastly the intention is that this facility could have some outdoor amenities ... outdoor waiting area and so forth."
Thorne said Connect Transit officials have planned the station for decades but stepped up their efforts after a 2016 route remap that placed extra burden on Front Street to facilitate transfers. Only six of the eight buses that stop there for transfers can fit between Madison and East, making some of the 1,500 passengers who take a bus there per day cross Madison for a transfer.
The suggested station would measure at least 500 feet by 250 feet and use a "sawtooth" configuration with 10 buses parked around a central covered area connected to an indoor station.
Alderman Kim Bray suggested city officials visit a similar station for scale.
Officials did not discuss the cost of the potential station, but Thorne said he hopes it could open within three to five years. He said the bus system has been saving money for the station but did not specify how much.
"Once we have the feasibility study done, we want to go out and apply for federal and state grants, but we also are looking for private partners on this," said Thorne. Farnsworth's designs include theoretical development around the transfer station, which officials say could be a parking deck or private project.
Alderman Joni Painter suggested McLean County government, which has buildings off Front Street, as a potential partner, especially because some use the bus to visit the McLean County Health Department at 200 W. Front St.
"Fitting this into downtown in a way that works well for your needs as well as the city's needs in our comprehensive plan, I think, will be a challenge, and I think working together to do that is the only way," Alderman Amelia Buragas told Thorne. "This could look a lot of different ways, so I'm excited to see what those possibilities may be."