By Tom Shrout
Tom Shrout serves on the Washington, DC based Boards of the Center for Transportation Excellence and the National Association of Public Transit Advocates. In 2010 he retired after 22 years as executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit. After retirement from CMT, he formed a consulting company, Avvantt Partners LLC and has worked with community groups and local governments across the county seeking to build support for better transit systems. In the summer of 2014, he formed Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, a grassroots campaign organization that successfully defeated Amendment 7, a proposed state sales tax increase which would have funded highway expansion in Missouri.
MetroLink is a huge success in the St. Louis region; 17 million times a year people ride it to work, education, the doctor, the airport, ballgames or home. When MetroLink opened in 1993, people from around the country came to St. Louis to learn how we accomplished this feat and what lessons they could learn from St. Louis and apply to their city. With MetroLink such a success, then why aren’t East-West Gateway, Metro, St. Louis City and St. Louis County going full tilt to add additional mileage and stations?
The last line built was the Cross-County alignment to Clayton and Shrewsbury which opened in 2006. Another extension is not in the works despite voters in St. Louis County approving a ½ cent sales tax in 2010 for operations of Metro and MetroLink expansion. The passage triggered a previously passed tax in St. Louis City. Money is accumulating at the rate of about $38 million per year but is not designated for an expansion project.
The cities that visited St. Louis to learn about our early success, such as Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas and Salt Lake City, started their systems well after St. Louis but now have more miles of rail and surpass St. Louis in reaping the economic benefits that occur around stations. They continue to link their regions while we remain stalled.
In the late 1980s East-West Gateway identified a MetroLink alignment that could run from Florissant Valley Community College in North County south to downtown and extend all the way to the South County Mall. This is a big expensive project, but would pay enormous dividends to the region. A higher level of study was completed in 2000 and more study on the city portion of the alignment was completed in 2008.
The planned MetroLink extension would run on West Florissant Avenue through the heart of Ferguson, offering its hard working citizens a high quality transportation option to access education and jobs, not only in downtown, but with a quick transfer to jobs in the Central Corridor of St. Louis. How many of the problems in North County we have learned in recent weeks are related to its citizens being auto-dependent? MetroLink would offer a different, lower cost option for transportation other than the automobile.
Developers who have seen this plan believe it would create development opportunities to revitalize older parts of our region, creating new housing and business opportunities that would serve the existing populations. It would also be a visible demonstration that not all St. Louis economic investment should take place in the central corridor. What’s more the new line could help integrate the St. Louis Region. It would link north to south, crossing the Delmar divide, while also linking the City with the County.
This won’t be easy; even if we start today, it will take 10 years before anyone rides on the Northside/Southside MetroLink train. Think if we had started after the last alignment opened in 2006, we would be riding in about a year. There would be a visible investment in North City and County. It would build on neighborhoods on the Southside that are already gaining strength.
It’s time for area transportation agencies and elected officials to lead on this investment opportunity. Dust off the studies that already have been completed, go to the federal and state governments and make the case to partner with local government for this much needed investment. Let’s build MetroLink, putting people to work now and in a few years taking them to work. The time is now.
Tom Shrout retired in 2010 after serving for 22 years as Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit. He and others have formed an all-volunteer organization, Friends of Northside/Southside MetroLink Expansion. The views expressed here are his and not necessarily those of CMT.
Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the view of the Community Builders Network or Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.