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 stop on his Wednesday visit to the Chicago area to discuss President Joe Biden’s bipartisan federal infrastructure bill.

A hub for Pace buses and both Metra and Amtrak trains, the center “touches one of the most basic and important parts of our daily lives,” the commute to and from work, Buttigieg said. For underserved communities lacking adequate public transportation, generations of disinvestment have meant people’s workdays “began on unpleasant terms,” 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, jobs, loved ones, without spending 30 minutes in the snow, or half an hour in blistering heat.”

Joined by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, Buttigieg helped officially open the Joliet Gateway Center after a 10-year, $9.7 million face-lift. The transit hub was built around the city’s old Union Station, which was decommissioned in 2014.

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

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

Pace buses run through Joliet with routes stretching to Elwood and Bolingbrook. Riders can also catch two different Metra lines that provide quick 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 increasing mobility, especially “out here in the far suburbs,” will not only ease people’s travels to work, appointments, shopping and restaurants, but also will 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 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.”

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

Federal funding will help Pace reach its goal of having all zero-emission buses by 2040, Kwasneski said. The first electric bus arrives next week for testing, and a fleet of 20 electric buses should be up and running early next year, Kwasneski said.

Rebuild Illinois includes a $4.6 billion investment in mass transit, on top of an estimated $4 billion the state will receive over the next five years from the federal infrastructure bill. Other infrastructure investments already in the works include the Interstate 80 bridge over the Des Plaines River, a $1.2 billion reconstruction taking place just over a mile away from the Joliet Gateway Center.

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