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.