Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joins local officials in hailing Joliet’s new transit center for Pace, Metra and Amtrak – Chicago Tribune

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he could ‘feel the alignment’ of city, county, state and federal leaders at the new Joliet Gateway Center, a stopover during his visit Wednesday in the Chicago area to discuss President Joe Biden’s bipartisan federal infrastructure bill.

A hub for Pace buses and Metra and Amtrak trains, the center “touches one of the most fundamental and important parts of our daily lives,” the commute to and from work, Buttigieg said. For underserved communities lacking adequate public transport, generations of disinvestment meant that people’s working days “started out in unpleasant conditions”, he said.

“In America, your ability to get to where you need to be shouldn’t depend on your income,” Buttigieg said. “It shouldn’t depend on driving a car. Bus riders deserve to get to doctor’s appointments, to work, to loved ones, without spending 30 minutes in the snow or half an hour in the scorching heat.

Joined by Governor JB Pritzker and U.S. Representative Bill Foster, Buttigieg helped officially open the Joliet Gateway Center after a 10-year, $9.7 million facelift. The transit center was built around the city’s former Union Station, which was decommissioned in 2014.

It’s one of many investments funded in part by Pritzker’s “Rebuild Illinois” plan, an ongoing six-year, $45 billion effort to improve state roads, bridges, railroads and public buildings.

Pace buses serve about 600 passengers a day from Joliet, said Rick Kwasneski, president of the Pace Suburban Bus Board, and the new center is a “significant improvement,” with an indoor, heated and air-conditioned waiting area.

Pace buses run through Joliet with routes extending to Elwood and Bolingbrook. Passengers can also take two different Metra lines that provide fast transit to downtown Chicago. And an Amtrak route from St. Louis to Chicago now stops in Joliet.

Foster, a Naperville Democrat who represents a district that includes Joliet and Will County, said increased mobility, especially “here in the outer suburbs,” will not only make it easier for people to get to work, appointments, shops and restaurants, but will also stimulate the economy.

“Our communities here in the southern and western suburbs continue to grow as more and more people choose to live here,” Foster said. “With a growing population, we need to ensure that we meet the demand for safe and reliable public transport options. And that is what this new transit center represents.

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Better access to public transit means people will be able to get new jobs “in and around Joliet or downtown Chicago or anywhere in that area,” Buttigieg said.

The federal funding will help Pace achieve its goal of having all buses zero-emissions by 2040, Kwasneski said. The first electric bus will arrive next week for testing, and a fleet of 20 electric buses should be operational early next year, Kwasneski said.

Rebuild Illinois includes a $4.6 billion investment in public transit, in addition to the roughly $4 billion the state will receive over the next five years from the federal infrastructure bill. Other infrastructure investments already underway include the Interstate 80 bridge over the Des Plaines River, a $1.2 billion reconstruction that takes place just over a mile from the Joliet Gateway Center.

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