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September 20, 2011 | 0 Comments

A Tale of Two States (and many, many cities): The Creation of the Bi-State Development Agency

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Happy Birthday, Bi-State!

Today marks the 62nd anniversary of the formation of the Bi-State Development Agency (BSDA), now d.b.a. Metro. The Bi-State Compact was signed by representatives from Missouri and Illinois on this day in 1949 and ratified by Congress in 1950. While we’re searching for the birthday candles, today seems like a great time to revisit the purpose and mission of the Agency. While we are best known in the community for public transit, Bi-State didn’t assume responsibility of public transportation service until 1962. The Agency is actually an example of regional cooperation and compromise, and an example of multiple governments working together for betterment of the entire St. Louis region.

In 1949, the region created the “Bi-State Metropolitan Development District” encompassing the City of St. Louis, and the counties of St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson in Missouri, and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe in Illinois. Missouri and Illinois operate as individual states, but many realized that the St. Louis region, though divided by a river, is one large economic unit.

So, Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District was granted the following powers:

1. Plan, construct, own and operate bridges, tunnels, airports and terminal facilities and to plan and establish policies for sewage and drainage facilities.

2. Make plans for submissions to the communities to coordinate streets, highways, parkways, parking, terminals, water supply and sewage and disposal, recreation, land use patterns and other joint or coordinated action among communities.

3. Charge fees, issue bonds, receive contributions or appropriations from local, state or federal sources for these purposes, and perform all necessary functions to accomplish these goals.

BSDA has to respect and obtain authority from all jurisdictions, but it is designed to act on behalf of the entire region, not just one municipality or state. And as residents of the St. Louis area know, the region has a multitude of local boundaries and governments. In 1985, the charter was amended by Congress to allow the Agency to purchase or sell land or facilities, contract with communities and third parties, and borrow money.

Before a Bi-State bus ever rolled down the streets of St. Louis in 1963, the Agency had issued a plan of development for the Bi-State Metropolitan District, studied pollution in the Mississippi River, prompting cleanup measures, and examined the sewer system in St. Louis, leading to the creation of the Metropolitan Sewer District.

Public transit became part of the BSDA in the 1960s. Fifteen different transit systems in the region meant a lack of coordination among them, to the frustration of riders and regional leaders. Bi-State bought the transit equipment and facilities, consolidated service, lowered fares, and began operating bus service through the region. The first Call-A-Ride service took to the streets in 1988, and MetroLink carried its first passengers in 1993.

Because access to transportation is a regional issue, it falls under the umbrella of Bi-State’s charter. Buses and trains do not run within the boundaries of one city or state.  They run where people of the whole region need to go to work, school or community events. That also means Bi-State has to balance the transit needs for the entire region, and it is ongoing work to adjust to the changing and anticipating needs of the two-state region.

Metro Transit isn’t the only business of Bi-State. Other BSDA enterprises include operating the Gateway Arch trams, and owning and operating the Gateway Arch Riverfront Boats as well as the St. Louis Downtown Airport.

Want to see how the Bi-State Development Agency works in action? Come to the Board of Commissioners (five commissioners from Missouri and Illinois, respectively) Meeting this Friday, September 23 at 10:30 a.m. to hear reports, upcoming news, and community comments.

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