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November 4, 2009 | 14 Comments

Metro Briefs St. Louis County Council

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The Post-Dispatch’s Along For the Ride blog has a nice piece this morning about the Metro executive briefing of the St. Louis County Council yesterday. Although the information won’t be new to our blog readers, the post highlights how long it takes to build a light rail extension – from planning to opening day – and the steps in between.

One thing you may not know, however, is that Metro has to compete for federal funding whenever the region wants to make a large capital investment (like a light rail expansion). There are many other transit agencies out there with expansion plans. The federal government has preferences about what gets built – longer extensions rather than short connectors, for instance, or – these days – bus rapid transit corridors rather than light rail. In order to secure federal funding, Metro has to prove to the federal government that the project is a good idea. The feds also require a “local match” of some percentage of the funding; and proof that the investment can be operated once the federal capital dollars are gone. This second set of requirements, as the Post-Dispatch points out, is where the St. Louis region has historically struggled:

Friem said Metro faced challenges raising the money for pay for expanded service. Among them are the inability to raise local money to match federal funds and little state support of transit in Missouri, he said.

This year’s March service cuts were a direct result of lacking operating funding. All of the capital investment in the world – buying buses, building tracks – won’t improve the transit system if there isn’t funding to pay people to drive the buses, fix the tracks, change the tires, run the pay system that pays the drivers, etc. Metro executives are working with regional, state, and federal officials and other stakeholder groups to try to find a solution to this issue. As Mr. Baer says:

Baer said Metro had needs “that would never go away” and that it needs “a secure revenue stream” to deal with them. Having invested $1.8 billion in Metro, the public should not walk away from the system, he said.

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Categories:
Capital Projects, Economic Development

14 thoughts on “Metro Briefs St. Louis County Council”

  1. RTBones says:

    Cant say I am terribly shocked by the article. I think it is pretty common knowledge that the favored option is the expansion of Metrolink. I think the article (perhaps the meeting, even) does transit a mild disservice, though, in that it says it could be up to eight years before a Metrolink extension opens. That isnt due to construction (2.5-3 years, according to the article), or even right-of-way planning. Its getting the money to do it that takes the time. Oh, we cant get matching funds (something historically difficult in St. Louis). Oh, we have to convince the government its viable. The article then goes on to wax poetically about the virtues of BRT, mentions something called “flex transit” (which is not explained). These options, it seems, are either exempt from the ‘matching funds’ requirement, or it is thought that matching funds would be easier to get for these modes of transit as the article does not mention the requirement for either mode.

    The question I have? Why is there no mention of brining back some of the streetcars? Grand Avenue, one place touted for BRT, would be a great line to bring back. There is certainly the ridership AND historical precidence for it. Add a second line going down Lindel from Washington University all the way into the city. If the Loop streetcar were built, you would link the Loop, CWE, and the bars/restaurants on South Grand. Want to go further? How about putting the Broadway streetcar back in, at least as far as the brewery. This would connect Soulard to the system, connecting four popular areas (Loop, CWE, South Grand, Soulard.) Extend the loop streetcar up to the Art Museum and zoo to take it even further.

    I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again: I do not understand the fascination with BRT. I have ridden systems in other cities. Yes, they are nice buses — but they are still a BUS, and NOT rapid.

    1. Jennifer says:

      Two things – what city’s BRT have you ridden? I’m interested to see the setup there and how it compares to what our planners are thinking.

      Also, if you’re interested in getting the skinny on the different modes of transit being explored at the workshops, check out Station #3 on the Moving Transit Forward Workshops page.

  2. RTBones says:

    One edit to the above…I should have said, “historical precedent.” Sorry for the double post, but there is no edit button. My apologies for the bad grammar and spelling.

  3. Jazzy Jeff says:

    After reading so many Metro articles over the years and living here my whole life of 35 years (so far). Maybe we should just shut down the system and use the remaining funds to help people move to more transit friendly places? Just put up signs that say “St. Louis City & County are Car Only”. I know it is absurd…but maybe it is just as absurd to continue the same stupid games of thinking we are a true Transit friendly region. The city wants Metro but the County Doesn’t. Or perhaps we should just let the city keep their system and shut down the County? The truly sad thing is that we are a region and one region doesn’t value it (at least the majority of voters). How can one part of the St. Louis Region cripple a much needed system?

    I liked the BRT but mainly I think it was because it was clean. There are newer buses out there now and I like them just as much as the BRT. The BRT is good simply because the Feds like it. And IMHO we should at least go w/ BRT since we can’t come up with much as far as local funds to support anything new let alone what we have already!

    Great discussion!

    1. Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I would hesitate to say this is a City vs. County thing. If you look at the results of last year’s Proposition M, it was a narrowly defeated measure and was only in the County. Many of the region’s elected officials and large employers are in favor of transit expansion. I think there are many reasons transit faces funding challenges, but the failure of one tax measure doesn’t necessary translate into St. Louis being a non-transit-friendly region. Remember, Metro’s funding struggles are not unique to Metro or to the midwest – transit agencies all over the nation faced massive service cuts this year due to dwindling sales tax revenue, rising gas prices, and lack of operation funding increases to match increased ridership. (Look at this map of transit cuts and fare hikes!)

      We at Metro are trying to do a better job of getting out, talking to people about their concerns and preferences, and responding to them. We are working to improve customer service. Our long-range planning effort, Moving Transit Forward, is helping us understand what the region wants – and people are more likely to support transit when they know exactly how it impacts them. Don’t give up on St. Louis, this is a great place to live, work, and play; and we’re all working together to make it better every day.

  4. RTBones says:

    Thanks for the link to Station #3.

    Systems I have ridden — Kansas City Max, Boston Silver Line, Seattle King County Metro (in the Transit Tunnel), Houston HOV, TVM in Paris, France, and the system whose name I dont recall in Tampere, Finland. I have ridden the bus in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but I dont believe either of those were BRT.

    1. Jennifer says:

      Wow, you are a transit world traveler!

  5. RTBones says:

    Yes, yet another comment by me. Its only because I care. 🙂

    Have to echo JJ’s comment here — great discussion. I also happen to agree with you Jennifer — St. Louis is a great city to live, work, and play in.

    Again, I will go back to the fact that BRT systems _can_ be nice. They just arent rapid, particularly if you mix them in with regular traffic. If you are going to go to the expense of building a dedicated right-of-way, why not build a streetcar or LRT, since you are doing 75% of the work and LRT doesnt burn (directly, anyway) fossil fuels?

    Another question — why is there no mention of trolley buses (Boston and Dayton both have these that I know of). You get the benefits of running off of electricity (less pollution) and the flexibility of not needing rails.

    St. Louis used to be a streetcar city. Why couldnt we bring some of those lines back?

  6. RTBones says:

    RE: Transit world traveler…LOL!! Jennifer, you have no idea!! I travel for a living, and grew up overseas as a military brat. I have taken transit in _a LOT_ of cities around the world — dont ask me to list them all!!! Transit (the ability to get around without a car) is one thing I greatly missed when I came home for university. The cities I listed are just the ones I know I’ve ridden BRT in (the topic of our conversation). I’ve ridden DART in Dallas too, but like Vegas and LA, I dont remember if it was the BRT line or not.

  7. Todd Plesko says:

    “I’ve ridden DART in Dallas too, but like Vegas and LA, I dont remember if it was the BRT line or not.”

    DART does not have any BRT or enhanced bus. DART invest in light rail (soon to be 90 miles of LRT), 35 miles of Commuter Rail, and 84 miles of HOV lanes. There is planning underway for more commuter rail (a suburban crosstown route), and the “City of Dallas” (with some help planning by DART) is investigating street car in a very small core area of downtown Dallas. DART has identified BRT (Rapid Bus) in its system plan, but the 20 year financial plan does not have sufficient capacity for any BRT investments. What we believe however is that without the bus investments (in additional frequency) and some enhanced bus crosstown routes, the economic investment in rail will be diminished.

  8. RTBones says:

    Todd,

    Thanks for the clarification — I didnt mention Dallas initially as I could not remember if what I rode fit the technical definition of BRT (which is what we were discussing). You have just verified it was not.

    I will admit to a curiosity —

    “What we believe however is that without the bus investments (in additional frequency) and some enhanced bus crosstown routes, the economic investment in rail will be diminished.”

    Does this mean you are planning for BOTH rail and bus improvements? My perception of what I have read is that it is an either/or proposition, and bus is prefered by Metro for financial reasons.

  9. Todd Plesko says:

    In the case of Dallas, the 2030 System Plan lists investments in rail in some corridors and Dallas’ version of BRT (Rapid Bus or Enhanced bus) in other corridors.

    To implement everything in the DART 2030 plan (soon to be a 2035 plan), DART will have to find the money for the bus investments as well as some of the Rail investments. The “either or situation” that you referenced is often what happens when there is insufficient money to do both. The rail advocates will generally want every spare dollar spent on rail at the expense of bus investments. This is often driven by the development community (and the city’s where development is possible) that see rail as a method of leveraging private TOD investment. Bus is generally not seen as valuable to TOD advocates.

    In St.Louis the anti-bus philosophy is also due to the belief of some persons that a BRT bus approach will not attract the middle class, “choice” rider necessary to gain a broad based political support for public transit.

    My fear in the case of St. Louis is that the financial capacity of St. Louis City and County (even with a 1/2 cent tax new sales tax) is insufficient to support more rail development…at least until the 1/4 cent Prop M tax paying back Cross County bonds are paid off. (2035?) The reason I say this is that the region has had revenue growth on the existing sales taxes which does not keep pace with inflation.

    More rail might be possible if the State of Missouri implemented a significant program to fund transit like Illinois. This would have to be a program which provides significant resources…providing perhaps the equivalent of another 1/2 cent tax. This would probably require that Metro expand its operating area to provide service to a larger political-economic base. Putting that level of new State funding into a new program just for St.Louis and St. Louis County isn’t realistic.

    Metro is doing the right thing in trying to develop a consensus system plan which looks at the full range of options. This plan needs to trigger a new source of funding within the current Metro district. Metro will also need to push for a Statewide Funding program to be able to have sufficient financial capacity to build any more rail.

  10. GetReal says:

    If Metro needs greater funding end the subsidies to WashU-BJC first, then live up to your promises. Otherwise a consensus plan is nothing more than a charade. Metro has destroyed its credibility, breads and circuses designed to create cheerleaders instead of real change is a waste of time. The anti-bus attitude is a result of the irrational route designs that waste the time of the “choice” market.

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