This article is 2 years old. It was published on August 17, 2020.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The City of St. Louis, in close partnership with Bi-State Development, is pleased to announce that it is moving forward on its commitment to expand high-capacity transit service to people who live and work in north and south St. Louis.
“The journey from idea to construction of a major transit project can be a long one, but now we are beginning to enact the vision for a high-capacity, high-amenity public transit option that serves residents on the north and south sides of our City,” said Mayor Lyda Krewson. “This phase we’re entering will allow our community partners to select an option that is financially feasible and designed to provide high-quality, frequent service.”
The City has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for an additional analysis that will explore alternatives for the expansion of public transit within the Northside-Southside corridor. City and Bi-State staff worked jointly to develop the scope of the work and will jointly manage the project. This is to ensure that all operational knowledge of the existing MetroBus and MetroLink systems are incorporated.
The analysis will be funded by up to $1.5 million from the Economic Development Sales Tax authorized by voters in 2017. Sixty percent of that sales tax has been reserved for future transit expansion since it was approved. The Economic Development Sales Tax Board approved the funding to be included in the City’s FY21 budget that was also authorized by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and the Board of Aldermen.
Per the RFQ, the City is seeking to explore possibilities for closing the existing funding gap to construct and operate a Northside-Southside light rail expansion as currently conceived. The City also looks to explore less capital-intensive options for high-capacity transit within the identified Northside-Southside corridor, including emerging propulsion systems, gold standard bus rapid transit, and other up-and-coming hybrid systems that blur the lines between bus and rail service.
The guiding principles of this analysis will be an urgency in expanding high-capacity and high-amenity public transit service in north and south St. Louis with a commitment to protecting the financial health of the existing system. The benefits of a less capital-intensive project, if selected, include faster time to operation and the potential to reach more people and more neighborhoods.
The outcome of the RFQ, which shall be informed by the imperative to reduce racial and economic disparities within the City of St. Louis and wider region, will:
- Assess funding strategies to close the significant capital, operations, and maintenance funding shortfalls previously identified for a light rail expansion project
- Uphold the original goals for Northside-Southside, such as producing ridership, enhancing mobility, connecting employment centers and residential populations, reducing regional congestion, and improving the transit customer’s experience regardless of technology
- Study and assess modal alternatives not previously considered and introduce the public to new mobility technologies
- Identify the most promising technology alternative(s) that can advance to environmental documentation and impact assessment while staying within locally available resources
- Recommend the mode and technology to advance forward, which is accompanied by a realistic federal funding scenario and includes a feasible operational funding plan
- Compare a recommended alternative to the Minimum Operable Segment (MOS) identified previously
City and Bi-State staff believe that the results of this expanded review will be a fuller picture of the options available to the region and a framework for comparing options and selecting the preferred technology.
A previous study concluded that capital costs would likely range between $942 million and $947 million to construct the light rail line with an additional $24 million required for annual operations and maintenance. It also concluded that the current revenue stream from the 2017 Economic Development Sales Tax, combined with the maximum 50% federal cost share for capital costs, would be inadequate to build, operate, and maintain a new light rail line.
It was also previously found that the project as currently conceived might fall below the eligibility threshold for federal funding based on scoring criteria the Federal Transportation Administration applies to every project. Without a federal funding contribution, a light-rail expansion would not be financially feasible. Meanwhile, Missouri state government has continued to provide some of the lowest levels of funding to local transit agencies of any state in the nation.
The RFQ for Professional Engineering and Transportation Planning Services for the Northside-Southside Corridor and Technological Alternatives Analysis can be found on the City’s website: https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/public-service/announcements/details.cfm?id=174
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