Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg highlights new Pace bus station in Joliet

The new facility will give Pace customers a safer area to board buses and an indoor shelter to wait for their rides

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Gov. JB Pritzker were in Joliet on Wednesday to cut the ribbon on the new Joliet Gateway Center bus station and to tout recent infrastructure investments from state and federal lawmakers.

The city of Joliet and Pace had worked for over a decade to bring a new bus station to the Gateway Center complex in downtown Joliet with an indoor shelter and easy access to the train station for Metra and Amtrak riders.

“I’m so pleased to see how this facility is going to improve daily life and commute of so many people across the region,” Buttigieg said during a news conference inside the new bus station center.

The secretary lauded the joint effort to make the new bus station a reality.

Richard Kwasneski, the chairman of the Pace Board, said the $9.7 million project came together because of his agency’s work with the city of Joliet, along with the state’s 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital program. The program was key to providing the funding needed to get the project done.

Pace previously had its buses pick up riders in front of Union Station along Washington Street, just north of where the new station is, but now Kwasneski said the more modern turn-around area for its buses will make a “night and day” difference.

“It gives (riders) an opportunity to transfer in between buses safely versus being on the street,” he said.

Following the completion of Pace’s big projects like the Joliet station, Kwasneski said, the federal infrastructure law, which the Democratic-controlled Congress passed last year, will allow Pace to make further advancements with “new and innovative services.”

Primarily, he said, the federal money could help Pace replace its buses with new electric vehicles, which would help the agency achieve its goal of operating a zero emissions fleet by 2040.

Pace is also looking into adding a “call and ride” service where customers within a certain distance of a bus stop can call for a driver to get them to the stop, he said. It’s also trying to work with rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber to more easily transport Pace customers over the “last mile” from its bus stops to their final destination.

“We’re looking at a lot of different opportunities out there,” Kwasneski said.

Wednesday marked one of multiple trips Pritzker has made to Will County during his tenure as the area has benefitted significantly from the Rebuild Illinois program. He’s also touted the massive construction efforts to redevelop a key stretch of Interstate 80 through Will County.

The governor argued investments in roads and transit will help attract even more businesses to the region and state, like the future Lion Electric factory in Joliet which is expected to build 20,000 vehicles a year and employ 1,400 workers.

“You can’t grow an economy if your roads and your bridges and your airports are deteriorating,” Pritzker said.

Local officials expressed their appreciation to both state and federal lawmakers for passing major infrastructure programs after years of disinvestment, especially in a major transportation and logistics hub like Will County.

Will County Board member Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, said she was excited to see how the Gateway Center stations have changed since she was a student at Joliet Central High School and walked by it on her way to class. She thanked lawmakers for their work to bring the much needed investments to Joliet and Will County because of the area’s vital role in the state’s economy.

“We are especially grateful here in Will County (since) we’re in the middle of everything,” Winfrey said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, who represents Joliet in Congress, noted the southern and western suburbs have grown significantly in recent years, which has made infrastructure improvements necessary for the whole region.

“With a growing population, we need to make sure that we’re keeping up with the demand for safe and reliable public transportation options and that’s what this new transit center represents,” he said.