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The Sangamon Mass Transit District will receive $17.8 million in federal funding to replace a fleet of older buses with new diesel hybrid and natural gas buses.

Funding for the buses, which are seen as a cleaner alternative, came after Democratic Rep. Nikki Budzinski (D-Springfield) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year supporting SMTD’s request for grants.

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“This grant will help the Sangamon Mass Transit District modernize its bus fleet and reduce fuel costs, as well as reduce harmful air pollution and help build a healthier future for our community,” she said in a press release. “I am pleased to see the bipartisan infrastructure bill continue to deliver success for central and southern Illinois with another transformative investment.”

Last month, SMTD unveiled the first of eight new hybrid buses — the $7.2 million cost will be covered by a mix of state and federal funds, according to the transportation district. The new funding, announced July 9, will add 19 buses, including 12 new hybrid buses and seven compressed natural gas buses replacing older models, according to SMTD Executive Director Steve Schoeffel.

Schoeffel told the State Journal-Register that the transportation district is converting its current fleet of 56 buses to zero-emission vehicles. Right now, the focus is on replacing diesel vehicles with diesel-electric hybrids, which he predicts will happen over the next six to seven years.

“The new buses funded by this grant will likely be purchased and hopefully in service by spring 2026,” he said. “When that happens, we will be over 82% low emissions, so we’ll be well on our way to a 100% low emissions fleet.”

The funding comes as state lawmakers begin to consider possible changes to public transit, as the Chicago Metropolitan Area Regional Transportation Authority could face a $730 million budget deficit beginning in 2026, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Contact Patrick M. Keck: [email protected], twitter.com/@pkeckreporter.