I had plenty of reasons to be happy about Monday's opening of the Macomb Transit Center in western Illinois.
First, when I was growing up in Peoria, we thought of McDonough County as something of a neglected land --we even called it "Forgottonia." The roads were crumbling, and they seemed to have been forgotten by state and national leaders.
So seeing how things have changed in the last couple of decades was very impressive. Macomb was always somewhere important to those who lived there, and the transit center that welcomed area residents Monday is a testament to their vision and persistence. Macomb Mayor Mike Inman and McDonough County Public Transportation have done an outstanding job of making sure that Macomb is truly on the map.
Second, this 70,000 square foot facility, funded in part by this Department and by the Illinois DOT, will be a hub of activity for area transit--a place where vehicles will be maintained and drivers will be trained. Last year, MCPT provided approximately two million rides. The new center will ensure that MCPT can continue to serve the hardworking families, seniors, and Western Illinois University students who depend on GoWest buses and Bridgeway vans to get them where they need to go.
And, perhaps best of all, the job was finished under budget and ahead of schedule. That's good for Macomb and McDonough County.The third aspect of this new facility I think is worth celebrating is that city and county leaders didn't build it from scratch. Instead, they chose to take a shuttered porcelain factory and repurpose it. That's a terrific way to preserve local history and create a home for McDonough County's thriving transit program.
When you've got a community of people who can't drive, don't want to drive, or can't afford to drive, public transit services like those offered by MCPT are critical. In fact, 60 percent of Western Illinois University's more than 12,200 students are carless.
But buses and vans require infrastructure beyond the roads they travel on. And attracting the support of people in your state capital or in Washington, DC, to help you create that infrastructure isn't always easy.
Want to know how to get it done right? Ask the folks in western Illinois.