December 17, 1997
Professor: Dennis R. Judd, Ph.D.
TRANSPORTATION FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: THE DEVELOPMENT OF METROLINK IN METROPOLITAN ST. LOUIS
The development of the MetroLink light rail transit system in St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois has been and continues to be a long gradual process. The history of planning for a rapid mass transit system extends well into the streetcar era, and has culminated with the opening of the first MetroLink line in 1993. This point really represents the beginning of a twenty-five year plan which will change the nature of mass transit in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Of particular interest are the 1980s and 1990s planning for the development of the first leg, including the many obstacles it has faced. Joe Frank.
Early Rapid Transit Plans in St. Louis (1880-1930)
The Heyday of the Streetcar
The intensive light rail transit planning and development of the 1980s and 1990s cannot be fully understood without some earlier context. The St. Louis of the early twentieth century had firmly embraced the streetcar as a tool both of transportation and of development. Streetcar operations were entirely private, competing against each other and often buses on the same routes. Several different companies operated services, although the largest was the St. Louis Public Service Company. All the companies were formed to make a profit, yet many did not. Instead, competition was most concentrated on the potentially most profitable routes, i.e. those with high ridership, most notably the Grand Boulevard crosstown corridor. Thus potential profit centers were divided up between three or four companies; also, bus fares were different from streetcar fares. Joe Frank.
Some plans were proposed for electric-powered rapid transit lines in the late 1800s and early 1900s. "At least five different movements to build elevated lines were started during the [eighteen] eighties and early [eighteen] nineties, and one progressed to the point where the concrete foundation for the first pier of the elevated structure was actually poured in location at Third Street and Washington Avenue" (St. Louis Board of Public Service 1926, p. 1) Several other proposals were advanced in later years, notably by E.G. Lewis, the original developer of University City, and by St. Louis Mayor Rolla Wells. Meanwhile, traffic congestion was becoming increasingly pernicious in the central business district east of 12th Street, and in the midtown area on Grand. The rise of the automobile was beginning to conflict with streetcar traffic and bus traffic. In the 1920s and 1930s it became especially apparent the automobile would be dominant in the future. Thus, primarily to alleviate downtown congestion, a rapid transit scheme was advanced. Joe Frank.
The 1926 Rapid Transit Plan
The 1926 plan called for a three-phase rapid transit subway system within the City of St. Louis. The plan would have required acquisition of the Eighth Street-Washington Avenue tunnel, and the railroad deck of the Eads Bridge, by the City of St. Louis. The subway system would not have used this tunnel, but instead removed it in order to develop subways first under several downtown streets, so that the plan "will not favor any section of the city. It will immediately solve the entire street car delay problem in the congested district. It will not encourage further unbalanced development within the city limits but by improving the service equally to all sections will encourage the orderly development of undeveloped areas within the city" (St. Louis Board of Public Service 1926, p. 189). Joe Frank.
The resulting routes would have been across the Eads Bridge, under Broadway from Chouteau to Cass, under Ninth street from Chouteau to Cass, and under Market, Olive, and Washington from the riverfront to Eighteenth Street. In this first step, streetcars would operate within the subway tunnels, thus removing all streetcar traffic from the downtown area east of Eighteenth Street, while still providing access to the car lines at stations placed at every other intersection, and freeing up surface streets for automobile traffic. The plan also called for a Riverfront Plaza extending from Clark Avenue to Morgan Street (now Delmar Blvd.), and from First Street to the levee. This would have enabled development of rapid transit terminals and streetcar storage facilities underneath, and automobile parking atop (194). Commercial and office development would have been possible east of Third Street, where steep grades, lack of streetcar access, and flooding had heretofore relegated the area to low-revenue-producing warehouse facilities. This was just one of many riverfront redevelopment plans for St. Louis, which generally languished until the 1960s when the Gateway Arch and its surrounding park were developed. Joe Frank.
The second phase of the 1926 plan called for the simultaneous construction of several rapid transit lines radiating west, south, and north from downtown St. Louis. This would have been subway tunnels, elevated tracks, depressed tracks in an open cut, or a combination of the three varying dependent upon topographical conditions, operating with electric trains. The lines would have been fed by streetcar lines and sometimes by buses, although some streetcars would have continued to serve downtown and the intermediary areas not convenient to one of the new subway stations. These streetcars would be accommodated by the Broadway subway tunnel, which would not be extended past Chouteau or past Cass, and thus serve to keep local streetcars off downtown streets. Short rides within the downtown district inconvenient to the rapid transit lines would be accommodated only by buses, to prevent inconveniencing the long-distance streetcar or rapid transit rider. Joe Frank.
This second phase would have included routes branching off from the Ninth Street line, southward generally via Gravois as far as California Avenue; southwestward via Lafayette as far as Grand Avenue; and northward via North Tenth Street and Palm Street as far as Twentieth at Palm, then forming two branches, one via Natural Bridge as far as Newstead Avenue, and the other generally along Twentieth Street and through O'Fallon Park to West Florissant at Taylor Avenue. The Market Street subway was to be extended via Market and South Vandeventer to the Chouteau-Manchester-Vandeventer Avenues intersection, and the Washington Avenue line via Morgan Street, Delmar Blvd., Enright Avenue, and the Hodiamont right-of-way to Walton Avenue (202). The Olive Street subway would not have had any extension beyond Eighteenth Street, but presumably could have served for operating the West End streetcar lines under the downtown business district, just as the Broadway tunnel would have for Southside lines at Chouteau and for Northside lines at Cass. Joe Frank.
The third phase of the 1926 plan would have extended the Twentieth Street-O'Fallon Park-West Florissant line with two branches, one continuing via West Florissant to Jennings, and the other via East Taylor and North Broadway to Baden. The Natural Bridge rapid transit line would have been extended via Natural Bridge to Pine Lawn, and the Washington-Morgan-Delmar-Hodiamont r.o.w. line would have continued via the Hodiamont r.o.w. to Skinker Road at Maple Avenue along the city limits. A new route intersecting the Washington and Market lines would have been constructed along Jefferson Avenue, from just north of Morgan Street to south of Clark Avenue. Another new north-south rapid transit route would have run under Grand Boulevard from North Market Street to Forest Park Avenue, intended to decrease congestion in the midtown district. Meanwhile, the Market Street line was to be extended from Vandeventer-Chouteau via Manchester Avenue, Arco Avenue, and Oakland Avenue to the Hi-Pointe area along the city limits. The Lafayette Avenue line would have been extended west from Grand via Lafayette, Vandeventer, Southwest, and Arsenal Street, then across the city limits and the Missouri Pacific railway line into Maplewood. The Gravois line would have been extended via two branches, one via Compton Avenue and Michigan Avenue to Tesson Street in Carondelet, and via Gravois to the River des Peres at the city limits (203). Future extensions were considered, but the main concern was keeping up with future development within the City of St. Louis. Joe Frank.
The 1930 Revised Rapid Transit Plan
Four years later, nothing had been done to progress toward development of such a system. A 1930 study again recommended rapid transit development, coupled with redesigned streetcar routes, improved feeder buses, and installation of traffic signals throughout the central business district and at other congested intersections throughout the city. Because of financial constraints, a modified plan was presented for rapid transit development. The lines recommended in 1930 were one "extending from the city limits along Manchester Avenue, Chouteau Avenue, Broadway, Cass Avenue, and Easton Avenue [now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive] to the city limits," another "extending from the city limits along Gravois Avenue, 9th Street, 14th Street, 20th Street, and [West] Florissant Avenue to the city limits," with the section on Ninth from Chouteau to Cass to be built at the same time as the Manchester-Broadway-Easton line. The third line would have extended "from the city limits along Delmar Avenue and Olive Street to a suitable terminal east of 3rd Street," and the fourth line "from a connection with the Gravois Avenue line along Compton Avenue and Michigan Avenue to Tesson Street" (Transportation Survey Commission of the City of St. Louis 1930, p. 103). Joe Frank.
These modifications would have eliminated the Lafayette, Baden, Market, and Natural Bridge routes, as well as the crosstown services under Grand and at Jefferson. The 1930 routes were chosen particularly because the Manchester-Chouteau and Cass-Easton corridors could easily be "adapted to development of super-highways" serving both downtown commuters and interstate travelers using either the MacArthur Bridge or "a bridge which will probably be required at Cass Avenue in the future" (103). Thus transportation planning was already looking toward development of facilities of utmost convenience for the automobile. Joe Frank.
Rail Transit Languishes (1930-1980)
No subways or elevated railways were ever developed in St. Louis. Instead, a gradual decommissioning of streetcar lines was begun, first with the Vandeventer car line as recommended by the 1926 and 1930 studies, and culminating in 1966 with the last run of the Hodiamont streetcar. By that time, public transit had been overtaken almost entirely by the private automobile and the interstate highway system, the population of the City of St. Louis was rapidly declining in both size and median income, and businesses were flowing out of the city as well. The economic strife of the Great Depression, and gasoline and tire rationing during World War Two temporarily buoyed the operations and ridership of the various transit companies. Nevertheless as people returned to their automobiles and auto sales rose dramatically after the war, transit ridership declined quickly. However, service levels remained approximately constant through the late 1940s, the 50s, and early 60s, except of course that streetcars had been replaced by buses, fares had risen substantially in order to cover costs, and the Public Service company had begun operating several 'express' buses to serve downtown commuters living in the growing suburbs. Joe Frank.
Thus in 1963, the Bi-State Development Agency, founded originally in 1949 and which until then only had operated a port-terminal facility in Granite City, issued revenue bonds and purchased Public Service and the twelve other private bus companies in the metropolitan area, forming Bi-State Transit. The stockholders in the bus companies were bailed out of the debts the companies had accrued. Meanwhile, Bi-State had to consolidate services and attempt to meet operating expenses. The agency received federal funding through the Urban Mass Transit Administration (now known as the Federal Transit Administration), and increased fares. Yet sharp operational cutbacks and route consolidations were necessary to pay off the revenue bonds and to pay operating expenses. Joe Frank.
In the 1970s, St. Louis City and County voters agreed to support Bi-State through a new half-cent sales tax. Yet the City and County governments collected this money and could decide how to spend it--Bi-State did not and still does not have independent taxation powers. The City generally gave most of its earnings through the transportation tax to Bi-State, but the County capped its contribution at two hundred percent of the City's contribution. The County claims it does not receive as much service as the City does, despite the County's larger population. So the remainder of the half-cent transportation tax in St. Louis County was earmarked for road-and-bridge improvements in St. Louis County; this condition persists today, except that in some years the County has withheld all its funding for Bi-State in order to force Bi-State to implement projects or service improvements beneficial to St. Louis County. Joe Frank.
Thus although during the oil embargoes of the 70s there was some contemplation of developing light rail transit in St. Louis, no definitive planning occurred because Bi-State was concerned primarily with stabilizing its funding and updating its bus fleet. Meanwhile the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the St. Louis area concentrated on development of an improved highway system, while the bus system was a small part of the overall transportation infrastructure, an infrastructure dominated by the private single-user automobile. Joe Frank.
A few reports did indicate that "Sound arguments exist for a well designed fixed wheel [light rail] system. . . . Traffic congestion . . . is no longer downtown alone but exists throughout the full length of every major artery; therefore, true rapid transit requires of necessity separate roadways throughout and these might then be just as well fixed rail, which has the greatest capacity to adjust to increased demand" (Bi-State/East-West Gateway 1968, p. 30). A feasibility study was even conducted in 1970-71 proposing a rail-like transit system of 82 miles "costing $1.2 billion. This would consist of seven lines: Northwest (Bridgeton to downtown); Southwest (Crestwood to downtown); West (Clayton to downtown); Midtown (along Kingshighway, I-270 to Gravois); Midcounty (Hazelwood to Clayton to Affton); Northeast (Granite City to downtown); and Southeast (Edgemont [eastern East St. Louis] to downtown)" (McKenna 1971, p. 22). All these ideas were very preliminary, with no definite funding mechanisms or specific design plans. Likewise, there was no readily apparent need for light rail transit in St. Louis, and little popular or political support for such a massive project. Joe Frank.
Implementation of the Lambert Field to East St. Louis line (1980-1993)
Bob Young's Demonstration Project
In 1980, a demonstration project undertaken by Congressman Robert Young exhibited that rail transit could possibly be feasible in St. Louis. Young and his aide Quentin Wilson "organized a special passenger train trip from the airport to downtown over the former Wabash railroad to demonstrate the feasibility of using underutilized railroad rights-of-way for light rail, as well as the possibility of recycling the 1874 Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River (and its associated tunnel), last used in 1974, to get into Illinois" (Young 1995, p. 17). Joe Frank.
So this plan, like the 1926 rapid transit proposal, would acquire the Eads Bridge and the tunnel from the Terminal Railroad Association. Unlike the 1926 report, this proposal would actually use the tunnel for transit services; the 1926 plan had been to destroy most of the tunnel in order to build east-west subways under Olive, Market, and Washington. But in the 1980s, the concept was to reuse historic features of the city. The Eads Bridge was a highly visible piece of St. Louis history, and the tunnel could become more visible to the public because of its use in the light rail system. Joe Frank.
The proposed light rail route was to begin in East St. Louis, cross the Eads Bridge, and use the tunnel to serve downtown St. Louis. After Busch Stadium, it would turn west, jogging slightly to the north to serve the proposed Kiel Center and under-renovation Union Station. It would follow the north edge of the Mill Creek Valley railyards to Grand Avenue,. then the Wabash right-of-way to "the former Forsythe junction, where it would split. A branch would go north over former Wabash Railroad right-of-way to Delmar Station and the University of Missouri, then to McDonnell Douglas at Berkeley, with a spur to the airport yet to be settled" (p. 17). The separate branch headed west from the Forsythe junction at DeBaliviere Avenue "would make use of the old University/Clayton streetcar right-of-way on Forest Park Boulevard, Millbrook and Pershing to the Clayton county government center" (17). Joe Frank.
The Great Bridge Swap
As the plan was taking shape, the road deck of the MacArthur bridge, also known as the St. Louis Municipal Bridge, was closed to traffic after years of deterioration. "Prior to the closure, St. Louis Mayor Vince Schoemehl had created a small group to develop alternatives for the deck which would provide a river crossing and push the light rail transit concept forward. Informally known as the 'underground bridge group' and meeting in the basement of City Hall, the group in October of 1982 was given to East-West Gateway, who reconstituted and enlarged it" (17). Joe Frank.
Important members of this group were Colonel Leonard Griggs, then St. Louis Director of Transportation; John Roach, a property developer; attorney Harvey Harris; and Les Sterman from East-West Gateway. In 1980, Col. Griggs had made the first serious pitch in Washington, DC for federal support of the light rail project, in a meeting with Missouri Senators John Danforth and Thomas Eagleton. Also important was that Harris "had been in contact with Hal Dean, a recently-retired CEO of Ralston-Purina and a member of Civic Progress, an exclusive group of some two dozen CEOs of St. Louis's largest business corporations" (17). Joe Frank.
Hal Dean was instrumental in executing the negotiations with the railroads, "which in 1983 came up with the idea of having the city trade its Municipal [MacArthur] Bridge for the railroad-owned Eads Bridge and tunnel" (17). Thus the railroads would own the bridge more easily suited to their railroad operations, and the city would own a bridge usable for automobile traffic and adaptable to light rail. Financially, the Eads Bridge and the tunnel would serve as the local match for the federal Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) grant needed for the costs of constructing MetroLink. Further, the tunnel under the heart of downtown St. Louis would be "a ready-made subway in all but name, which would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build new" (17). Joe Frank.
The financial plan was troubled, however, by opposition from the federal government. The Reagan administration was generally opposed to new light rail development, and UMTA director Ralph Stanley advocated the much cheaper all-bus Transportation Systems Management (TSM) option presented in East-West Gateway's studies instead of the light rail project. Stanley also "saw the bridge and associated property swap as a shell game; no actual cash was forthcoming for the required local match, suggesting to Stanley that St. Louis' support was not whole-hearted" (17). In reaction, Mayor Schoemehl wrote "The TSM alternative is nothing but a pipe dream . . . By contrast, in examining the potential for light rail in St. Louis, our project team has been guided throughout the process by the need to minimize costs and to make honest assessments of ridership potential, and funding capabilities" (UMTA/East-West Gateway 1987, Appendix I, Schoemehl letter, p. 2). Joe Frank.
Vocal Opposition Appears
Meanwhile, there was substantial opposition to light rail in certain segments of the local community. During these early planning stages, there was little active grassroots support for the proposal, Bi-State was preoccupied with its own financial troubles of running the bus system, and East-West Gateway was not allowed to advocate light rail over other alternatives, having already received federal money to undertake the alternatives-analysis study. In 1983, a possible route was proposed serving the Natural Bridge Road entrance of University of Missouri-St. Louis, thence running on-street down Natural Bridge through Bel-Nor, Bel-Ridge, and Berkeley until a branch point near McDonnell Blvd., where one route would serve McDonnell Douglas Corporation, and the other would run to Lambert Field. This mixed-traffic operation plan met with "vociferous objections, based on concerns about reductions in property values and potential congestion around UMSL" (Young 1995, p. 18). The plan was then revised to include a route crossing the north end of the UM-St. Louis campus, then following I-70 to the I-170 interchange, with branches to McDonnell Douglas and Lambert Field. Joe Frank.
Even more substantial was the opposition of University City to development of the Clayton line through its territory. "This crucial western portion of the main line would have created a high-speed LRT [light rail transit] link between St. Louis and the St. Louis County seat at Clayton" (18). University City residents "worried that electric trains (as they saw them) would make noise, decrease property values and import undesirables from other parts of town" (19). The residents also saw the plan as having been "presented as a fait accompli," and finally in the face of all this opposition the Clayton portion was eliminated from consideration (19). Instead, 'bus shuttles' were proposed for connecting University City, Clayton and St. Louis Galleria to MetroLink. Joe Frank.
Citizens for Modern Transit is Formed
The small committee dedicated to developing light rail in St. Louis realized it needed public support. Thus first, Fleishman-Hillard public relations was hired to develop a marketing plan for the proposal. Then, Civic Progress was enlisted to support and fund "an advocacy group through to 1989" (19). This group, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) was formed in early 1985, and formally incorporated on December 6, 1985 (20). "In the public forum, CMT's first year was dominated by the need to focus on grassroots advocacy had the kind of area-wide support worthy of full contract funding by the UMTA. . . The biggest coup of CMT's first year was the diversion of a light rail car in course of delivery from Canada to San Jose. It was displayed at Union Station . . . [and] attracted over 5,000 visitors and large-scale media coverage" (20). CMT also established a speakers' bureau, and monitored public opinion polls which frequently showed "the average voter thought LRT was a good idea" (20). Joe Frank.
Meanwhile, Bi-State was unconvinced of the value of light rail; it could barely fund its existing operations. Yet gradually, Bi-State was persuaded, starting with "Mayor Schoemehl naming CMT Board members Tom Purcell and Jill Claybour to Bi-State's Board of Commissioners and [culminating] in the hiring of a pro-light rail Bi-State Executive Director" (21). Thus the MetroLink project built further clout. Joe Frank.
Just as helpful was the resignation of the MetroLink-opposing UMTA director Ralph Stanley in late 1987. Confirmation hearings for his successor, Al Delli Bovi, were headed by Senator Jack Danforth, "and it was soon clear the UMTA road block had been cleared away; the new man approved taking MetroLink forward" (21). Yet St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary remained a substantial opponent. However, because he was intent on running for Missouri Governor, "and with much of his financing coming from individuals with Civic Progress, he was persuaded to ease off on MetroLink opposition as a quid pro quo" (22). Joe Frank.
Final Engineering and Construction Begins
Finally, in 1988, with the Final Environmental Impact Statement completed, final engineering and construction began. The project still did face several problems, but managed to be completed mostly on time and on budget. Many changes had been made along the route after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and many more changes, usually minor in nature, were made before construction began. Joe Frank.
Modifications during the course of planning and engineering included: elimination of an on-street loop in East St. Louis; renaming of the St. Louis Centre station as the Convention Center station; consolidation of the originally proposed Eighth at Olive and Eighth at Market into one stop at Eighth at Pine Streets in the downtown tunnel; relocation of the Busch Stadium stop from south of Spruce to north of Spruce Street; relocation of the Kiel Center Station from Fifteenth at Clark to Fourteenth at Spruce to tie in with bus service, City Hall, and the existing temporary Amtrak stop; and deletion of a station proposed for the foot of Twenty-First Street to serve a once-proposed future Amtrak depot. Joe Frank.
Other MetroLink line changes included: the relocation of the Central West End stop from Kingshighway to Euclid Avenue; relocation of the Forest Park station from the west side of DeBaliviere to the east side of DeBaliviere; relocation of Delmar station from under Delmar to between Hodiamont and Des Peres Avenues just north of the former Wabash Railroad station; renaming of the Page station as the Wellston station, and relocation of it from Page Blvd. to Plymouth Avenue; and the previously mentioned Normandy area reroute, which provided for stations at UM-St. Louis South, UM-St. Louis North, North Hanley Road, then via one branch to Berkeley and another serving the Northwest Park-Ride stop and the Lambert East Terminal. Joe Frank.
Even as construction was undertaken, there were several snags in the project. Planners discovered the planned route to Lambert Field could not be accommodated because the land north of I-70 was needed for expanded 'clear zones' at the ends of the airport runways. Thus, the Northwest Park-Ride station and lot were deleted; to make up for the loss of these 1,000 parking spaces, the North Hanley and Rock Road station lots were expanded substantially. Joe Frank.
The route west of I-170 now had to follow the north edge of the I-70 right-of-way. This meant going through the Washington Park Cemetary, which entailed removal and relocation of 2,600 gravesites. It became clear this line could not be finished entirely on time, so when MetroLink formally opened in 1993, it only ran from Fifth at Missouri Avenues in East St. Louis, to North Hanley Road. It was also necessary to extend the route through to the Airport Main Terminal because the East Terminal was slated for renovation and rebuild in the mid to late 1990s, and thus the previously anticipated 'roof-level moving sidewalks' could not be installed as a connection between the MetroLink station and the main terminal. Also, because of the 'clear zone' issue, the Berkeley branch of the MetroLink line was likewise dropped from consideration until Lambert Field expansion plans are finalized. Joe Frank.
Squabbling Over the Future: MetroLink Expansion Plans (1993-1997)
Despite all these troubles, MetroLink officially opened on July 31, 1993. Rides were free for the first three days, although the line only operated from North Hanley to Fifth and Missouri. After the free days, ridership remained higher than anticipated, and the park-ride lots at many stations often quickly filled. In 1994, the Airport Main Terminal station opened, followed a few months later by the station at East Riverfront, which had been delayed by unclear plans for the reconstruction of the Eads Bridge road deck eastern approach. East Riverfront also included a new park-ride lot. A station at the Airport East Terminal is scheduled to open in Spring, 1998. Joe Frank.
The unanticipated popularity of the park-ride facilities led Bi-State to lease property near Fifth and Missouri station for increased parking, purchase a lot across from Forest Park station at Pershing and DeBaliviere, and finally to construct a lot adjacent to the Delmar station on Des Peres Avenue. Further plans call for construction of a commuter parking garage at North Hanley station, and a small park-ride lot adjacent to Grand station. Ridership has been consistently high for special events including the U.S. Olympic Festival, Cardinals games, Rams games, Blues games, concerts, and conventions. Joe Frank.
Proposition M Passes
Building upon all this popular support, in 1994 an additional one-quarter cent sales tax for Bi-State was approved by St. Louis City and County voters. Two-thirds of this money is allocated to the local match funding for future MetroLink extensions and other transit capital improvements in the Bi-State system. One-third of this funding helps cover operating expenses of MetroLink and buses. Since the opening of MetroLink, ridership has increased on many connecting bus lines, and service has been increased or reconfigured on many routes as a result. Meanwhile, MetroLink service has been provided at higher frequencies during peak-periods than originally expected. As a result, operating expenses have been higher than planned. Meanwhile, the State of Missouri still has not agreed to a permanent state-funding mechanism for public transit, and federal operating subsidies have been constantly decreasing. Joe Frank.
St. Clair County Planning
Also, St. Clair County, Illinois in 1994 approved a new sales tax for an extension planned from Fifth at Missouri in East St. Louis, to Mid-America Airport in Mascoutah. The two alternate routes initially proposed were one via I-64 through Fairview Heights, and the other via the former CSX railroad right-of-way through Belleville. The CSX corridor was ultimately chosen, although after a public comment period the route was modified so that when construction begins in Spring, 1998 on the St. Clair line, the initial service will terminate at Belleville Area College. The route is to be funded by federal transit capital expenditure dollars and by proceeds from the St. Clair County MetroLink sales tax, which are not given to Bi-State but to the St. Clair County Transit District. This line is planned to be operational by 2001 and will serve Fifth and Missouri, Emerson Park and Hall Park in East St. Louis; Washington Park; Fairview Heights; Memorial Hospital in Belleville; Swansea; downtown Belleville; and Belleville Area College. A future extension planned to Mid-America Airport, via new Shiloh and O'Fallon-Scott Air Force Base stations. The speed in which this extension is constructed will depend upon the amount of use of Mid-America by major airlines, and somewhat upon development in the Shiloh and O'Fallon areas. Joe Frank.
St. Charles County Says 'No'
Twice since MetroLink opened in 1993, St. Charles County, Missouri voters have been asked to approve a sales tax to support development of MetroLink and a connecting bus system within the St. Charles-Weldon Springs-Wentzville 'Golden Triangle' area of St. Charles County, home to thousands of former St. Louis County residents who find themselves in horrific traffic jams every day when commuting to St. Louis City and County across the Missouri River. Both sales taxes have failed to win voter approval, even though a St. Charles County Transit District was established in 1991. A large part of the opposition claims that MetroLink would bring crime to the area, and of course a sizable percentage of St. Charles Countians moved there from North St. Louis County as African-American families began moving into North County communities. Joe Frank.
Thus St. Charles Countians have refused to bring MetroLink into their territory, although many St. Charles Countians do use the MetroLink at North Hanley station to access work in downtown St. Louis. Most park at the North Hanley park-ride lot; thus they still must struggle through the traffic on the bridges to get to and from work. A few others do use the one bus line Bi-State operates in St. Charles County, the peak-hour only #134 St. Charles Limited (which runs reverse commuter service in the early morning and early evening as the #34 Earth City, to Mid-Rivers). This route connects four park-ride lots along I-70 in St. Charles and St. Peters with the MetroLink service at North Hanley. Of course, the buses still have to endure the traffic jams crossing the Blanchette Bridge, but their service begins very early (the first morning run departs Mid-Rivers Mall Drive park-ride lot at 5:25 a.m.). Joe Frank.
St. Louis County Refuses to Pay Any More
On November 4, 1997, St. Louis City and County voters were asked to pay another quarter-cent sales tax for MetroLink expansion and for Bi-State operating costs. The election resulted in defeat of the tax in St. Louis County, and passage by a few hundred votes in St. Louis City. Thus, if the sales tax ever passes in St. Louis County, it could be collected in St. Louis City without another referendum. However, the measure cannot be placed on the ballot again until at least November 1998, which is an election time for the County Executive. Thus there will not be any new funding for MetroLink available for some time to come, unless a Missouri state funding mechanism can be secured. Joe Frank.
General Opposition to Bi-State
Most residents of the metropolitan St. Louis area hold a negative view of the Bi-State Development Agency, which owns and operates the MetroLink line. Buses, the core of Bi-State's operations, are generally seen as inconvenient to use, uncomfortable, and ugly. They often run late, the drivers are rude, and the only people who really use them are those with no other alternatives: the homeless, welfare recipients, and other low-income individuals. The few people who choose to ride the bus rather than drive to work only do it to avoid the high costs of parking in the congested areas of downtown St. Louis and downtown Clayton, Missouri. So goes the conventional wisdom about the bus system, which in the minds of many is Bi-State. Sometimes these feelings come from personal experiences using the buses Bi-State operates. Often, it is merely a view established based on hearsay--that 'everybody knows' the buses are lousy and so by extension Bi-State is lousy. Joe Frank.
MetroLink, meanwhile, has been subject to rave reviews by the populus. Ridership on MetroLink has been reasonably high, although admittedly public transportation cannot replace the interstate highway system given the current patterns of sprawling, diffused suburban settlement based upon the automobile. Many people who would never consider riding the bus have been willing to drive to a MetroLink station, park their vehicles, and ride the train to work in downtown, sporting events and other special events. However, citizens do not wish to pay for it, at least not beyond the one dollar fare. This is illustrated by the failure of the November 4, 1997 referendum to provide a quarter-cent sales tax in St. Louis City and St. Louis County which would provide funds to Bi-State. " 'Voters need to think twice before approving any more money for Bi-State,' said [state representative James] Murphy" (South County Times 10-24-97, p. 1). According to state representative Charles Quincy Troupe, "The primary focus at Bi-State should be to get those dependent on public transportation to work and to jobs . . . Spending hundreds of millions on MetroLink will not accomplish this" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 10-24-97, News). Such comments typified the opposition to the sales tax, which ultimately failed in St. Louis County and passed by a very narrow margin in the City of St. Louis. Joe Frank.
The underlying principle of popular distaste for public transit is that citizens are unwilling to relinquish the feelings of privacy, comfort, and independence which accompany use of a private, single-user automobile. Since World War II especially, the car has become the symbol of American rugged individualism. Generally, support for public transit has been limited to environmental activist groups and advocates of the poor. Certainly, MetroLink has gained broader popular support, but the public refuses to give more money to Bi-State because the funds would necessarily contribute to bus operations. Many citizens wanted a promise that 'Proposition M' dollars would go only toward MetroLink expansion. However, this contradicts the stated goal of Bi-State of developing and implementing a multi-modal transit system. Overall, Bi-State must overcome strong negative perceptions of its primary duties in order to achieve its goals successfully. Joe Frank.
How to Get to Clayton
One vivid example of conflict over MetroLink needs is the October 1997 East-West Gateway Coordinating Council decision about which route to use for connecting Clayton, Missouri to the existing MetroLink line. The council operates by consensus, and as a result the most important voices in the decision came to be St. Louis County Executive 'Buzz' Westfall, and City of St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon. Westfall favored a route following Forest Park Parkway, running directly from the Forest Park MetroLink station to downtown Clayton. Harmon initially favored a line starting at a new station on the existing line at Boyle Avenue in St. Louis, thence running via the I-64/U.S. Highway 40 corridor to serve the St. Louis Science Center, turning northwest under Forest Park itself to serve the Zoo and Art Museum, then finally running parallel to Forest Park Parkway into Clayton. After much public discussion, the ultimate decision to which Harmon assented was to build the Westfall-backed 'direct' line via the Forest Park Parkway corridor from Forest Park station. Ex-Senator Jack Danforth and his brother, St. Louis school desegregation case settlement coordinator William Danforth, allegedly also had some substantial influence over the selection of this line, because it would directly connect the three campuses of 'their' Washington University (the Medical School on Euclid, the 'Hilltop' or main campus along Millbrook, and the West Campus in the old Famous-Barr store on Forsyth Blvd. in Clayton). Bi-State, of course, will be forever criticized for building this route when indeed the agency had minimal control over this decision. Joe Frank.
Curiously, the planners of MetroLink claim to be following a 1991 master plan established by East-West Gateway. The 1995 future route extension map produced by Citizens for Modern Transit does indeed seem to reflect a master plan. It indicates a route following Highway 40 from near Vandeventer Avenue to I-170, labeled under 'Future routes under study,' along with the Cross-County corridor running generally from Berkeley in North County to Mehlville in South County. Other extensions, generally via Highway 40, I-44, I-55, North Jefferson-Natural Bridge-Goodfellow-West Florissant, to Alton and to Edwardsville, are indicated simply as 'Possible MetroLink extensions.' Three alternate routes to St. Charles are indicated, "only one of which may be chosen after study." This 1995 map shows no route along the Millbrook Blvd. corridor (CMT 1995). Joe Frank.
Yet another MetroLink route proposal map, published by East-West Gateway in October 1997 and distributed to MetroLink commuters before the November election, indicates the Millbrook corridor as among 'Priority I Corridors (in service 2001-2010).' The Cross-County corridor, now extending from Lindbergh Blvd. in Florissant to Butler Hill Road in South County, and the St. Clair County line to Mid-America Airport, are also labeled in this category. Noticeably absent from this plan is the portion of Highway 40 between Kingshighway and I-170 (East-West Gateway 1997). Yet this plan also indicates 'Priority II Corridors (in service 2010-2025),' which includes the West County to Weldon Springs, Southside to South County Center, and Northside to I-270 at West Florissant Ave. routes, indicating two different routes for each. The implication of these is that both routes are intended to be built, because the map legend does not indicate that they are alternatives among which only one can be chosen. A third tier of MetroLink extensions, 'Priority III Corridors (TBD),' is also indicated on this map. These routes are those to Edwardsville, to Alton, along the I-44 Southwest corridor to Route 141, and the St. Charles line to St. Peters. They are also indicated by two, roughly parallel routes which are not clearly indicated as alternatives to one another. Joe Frank.
The Twenty-Five Year Transportation Improvement Program
These planning inconsistencies notwithstanding, the long-term goal of Bi-State is to develop an integrated system of MetroLink, buses, and Call-A-Ride paratransit services. The Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) is the means towards this objective (Bi-State 1996, p. I-5). The TIP calls for extensions of MetroLink as per whatever East-West Gateway finally decides to do. Equally important is the planned restructing of the Bi-State bus system. Most current trunk lines are to replaced and augmented by new lines radiating from various transit centers. Thus, instead of the current pattern of most bus routes being centered on downtown St. Louis, new routes using newer, generally smaller, more maneuverable buses will be developed with these transit centers as their foci. Such transit centers already exist in Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois. The St. Clair MetroLink extension will operate near the Transit Plaza in downtown Belleville, which serves as the terminus or as a circulation point for most bus routes in that county outside of East St. Louis. All the East St. Louis routes were reconfigured when MetroLink began operation in order to terminate at the Fifth and Missouri MetroLink station. The Madison County Transit Center in downtown Granite City links together bus routes serving Alton, Wood River, Edwardsville, Collinsville, East St. Louis, Madison, and points in-between. Joe Frank.
Such a transit center is already being planned for downtown Clayton, as part of the recently completed St. Louis County Justice Center on Central Avenue. The transit center would replace the current bus transfer point at Central and Forsyth, about two blocks to the north, and should also be integrated with the Clayton connector of MetroLink. The Clayton Transit Center should be available for use by the year 2000. There are also plans for a South County Transit Center, to be located somewhere on the grounds of South County Shopping Center at I-270 and I-55. Those plans are partially funded, but more uncertain, because it is unclear how soon MetroLink will serve South County Center, and where the station would be located. Further, Westfield America, Inc., the owners of South County Center, have applied for Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) to enable a massive renovation of the shopping mall. Those plans have not yet been approved either; thus actual construction of this South County Transit Center may be several years in the future. Joe Frank.
Other Bi-State transit centers are planned for various locations in the metropolitan area. One is planned for North St. Louis, possibly at the soon-to-be vacated Schnucks Supermarket at Newstead and Natural Bridge, thus tying in with long-range plans for a Northside MetroLink line. Another is planned for South St. Louis, perhaps near Gravois and Chippewa in connection with the planned Southside MetroLink line. Another is planned for somewhere in West County, another for the Northwest County area, and another for somewhere in North County along I-270. The Downtown St. Louis Intermodal Center, when completed, will also serve as a transit center for numerous bus lines, with the added benefit of direct access to Amtrak, Greyhound buses, and the MetroLink Kiel Civic Center station. Joe Frank.
Need for Better Coordination
Residents of metropolitan St. Louis have expressed a desire for MetroLink development and expansion. However, outside the membership of Citizens for Modern Transit, this desire has not been clearly evident in actions. Further, there needs to be a truly specific, coordinated plan developed by CMT, East-West Gateway, Bi-State, the St. Charles, St. Clair and Madison county transit districts, and the various local, state and federal governmental agencies involved. Joe Frank.
Priorities need to be established for what areas truly need service and what areas can be delayed. One possible mechanism for such prioritizing is enabling the development of sub-regional transit districts within St. Louis City and County. These administrative bodies would contract with Bi-State for transit service, just as the Illinois transit districts do currently. They would tailor services specifically to the needs of their local area, and could be involved with route planning for MetroLink. Joe Frank.
This concept, however, could very easily cause a breakdown in coordination because even more voices would have to cooperate than do currently. The hope would be that, instead, these local area transit districts would be more receptive to specific urban neighborhood and suburban subdivision needs, and be able to lobby for separate federal and state grants for special projects. They could potentially even establish independent additional sales taxes or other assessments for local services within their areas. These would indicate greater local support for a MetroLink line in a particular area, which if backed by such additional tax monies would be likely to translate into faster planning and development processes for MetroLink in those areas. Joe Frank.
However, there would still definitely need to be some form of regional transit planning, because most trips in the metropolitan area are long-distance commutes, often from one suburban area to another. Development of transfer centers would indeed make suburb-to-suburb travel easier, and their connection by MetroLink lines would help even more. Bi-State recognizes the need to do this, because suburb-to-suburb is the number one travel pattern in the metropolitan St. Louis area, followed by city-to-suburb travel, with suburb-to-downtown travel a distant third. Joe Frank.
Currently, East-West Gateway is in the process of developing a plan for the construction of the Clayton connector and the portion of the Cross County line extending from Clayton to Shrewsbury. There is reportedly enough money to construct such a line without another sales tax increase, thanks to the 1994 Proposition M measure. The line will branch off the current line at Forest Park station, then follow Millbrook Blvd. and Forest Park Parkway to somewhere around the Forsyth Blvd. underpass, then operate through the Clayton Business District and Shaw Park, then via the former Terminal Railroad Association right-of-way roughly paralleling I-170 and South Hanley Road, south to I-44 where the abandoned right-of-way meets up with still-functional trackage. The old right-of-way is owned by Citizens for Modern Transit, and was purchased by the organization in the early 1990s for the specific purpose of land-banking for future light rail extensions. This route is expected to be completed by 2004. Joe Frank.
This route will largely follow already open right-of-way, along the Millbrook Blvd. greenspace corridor owned partly by St. Louis County, partly by University City, and partly by Washington University; through Shaw Park, owned by the City of Clayton; and along the old Terminal Railroad r.o.w. The service in the Clayton downtown district will be on street rights-of-way. Meanwhile, Washington University, University City, and Clayton have already stated their desire that all MetroLink construction within their territories will be below-grade, preferably in tunnels, and will be walk-up only with no free parking available. However, a large proportion of the riders of the current MetroLink line are park-and-riders; indeed all the stations outside the congested hospital complex, downtown, and airport areas currently have park-ride areas whether official or unofficial. Joe Frank.
As a result of these dictums issued by Clayton, U. City, and Washington U., MetroLink development will be pedestrian-oriented in their areas. This does actually make a great deal of sense, since the area to be served along Forest Park/Millbrook and in Clayton is an historic, transit-based development area. Thus park-ride areas will be precluded along this route anywhere north of Clayton Road. In the short stretch near the Galleria stop in Richmond Heights, it is unlikely park-ride facilities could be developed because the commercial and residential areas near there have high property values, the frequent turnover of parking spaces is necessary to facilitate customer access at almost all businesses in the area, and the City of Richmond Heights has already stated that it does not want any houses torn down within its city limits to make way for MetroLink. Joe Frank.
So now the route is south of Eager Road, with no park-ride facilities yet practical. The stretch of right-of-way through Brentwood is adjacent to many high-value commercial and office-industrial developments. Notable among these are Hanley Industrial Court, the Purina Mills company offices, the new Home Depot store, and the soon-to-be opened Brentwood Promenade shopping center. The Promenade and Home Depot may have some excess parking spaces at some point, but they are unlikely to be convenient to the MetroLink right-of-way. After crossing Hanley Road diagonally, the trackage enters the City of Maplewood. In Maplewood, the heavily developed industrial-office area continues, with the trackage running on a high berm which would probably be hard to combine with a park-ride facility. At the Manchester Road crossing, however, there are a few used car sales lots which could be readily purchased and converted into park-ride areas. These properties do, however, produce much-needed revenues for Maplewood; thus the city might not be comfortable with their conversion to non-tax-producing uses. However, it is likely the property will need to be purchased anyway in order to enable construction of proper bus turn-around facilities there, because a station at Manchester Blvd. in Maplewood would likely need to serve all bus routes currently laying over at the Sutton Loop, about seven blocks east in the downtown area of Maplewood. Thus only a relatively small park-ride facility can be readily accommodated here. Joe Frank.
Next, the route passes through the Sunnen Business Park, an area in the City of Maplewood being developed for industrial-office facilities, where there is likely to be little spare land for park-ride when development is completed. Just south of there is the Deer Creek Shopping Center, anchored by a Venture store and a state drivers' testing office. The MetroLink route will probably pass just east of this shopping center. The east end of the parking lot is also typically the most underused in this center. Thus the east lot at Deer Creek Center presents the most likely opportunity for a substantial park-ride lot on this next MetroLink line. Joe Frank.
The area southeast of Big Bend Blvd. along the proposed MetroLink line has substantial access problems, because it lies adjacent to Deer Creek, the operational Burlington Northern railroad trackage parallel to I-44, and the Laclede Gas Company maintenance facilities and Laclede's massive propane storage tanks in the City of Shrewsbury. Part of this area is in flood plain, and the other side of the trackage is a residential area in the City of Maplewood. This area would most readily be accessed via Laclede Gas property off Shrewsbury Avenue. If proper easements could be secured, this back-land could possibly be used for a very large park-ride facility, although there may be problems with soil contamination from previous users of the gas company's terminal facilities. Likewise, a traffic signal would certainly be needed on Shrewsbury Avenue, and the current partial, curving, non-signalized access to I-44 from Shrewsbury Avenue would have to be somehow upgraded. If these problems could be overcome, a functional, convenient park-ride lot could be developed which would serve residents of south and southwest county traveling to both Clayton and downtown St. Louis. This line, given its brevity, will definitely need such a facility in order to be successful until the southward extension to South County Center is funded. Joe Frank.
Certainly, if MetroLink is ever to get beyond the Shrewsbury city limits, it will require more money. Bi-State's plan for an integrated multi-modal transit system is certainly a worthwhile objective, but it will obviously require direct connections with MetroLink in order for it to function smoothly. Thus all organizations and parties involved must cooperate and coordinate in order to get public support for increased public funding for all mass transit. MetroLink should be viewed as equally important as improved bus services. Yet it must also be integrated to some degree with the predominant mode of transportation, the automobile. Joe Frank.
While building upon the successes and powerful political supporters MetroLink has gained in the past, and the present popular approval the line has received, regional transit planners must strive to develop and maintain a strong image for the transportation system as a whole. This may mean some devolution of control from Bi-State to sub-regional levels, so long as regional transit objectives continue to be met. MetroLink must expand, and its funding sources must be stabilized; for it to stop at just one line would be just as shameful a sight as the elevated railway project which stopped construction after pouring just one pier. Joe Frank.
Bi-State Development Agency. Strategic Plan and Budget FY 1997. Bi-State: St. Louis, April 1996.
Bi-State Development Agency and East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. St. Louis Area Land Use and Transportation Planning Program: Existing Transit Service. Bi-State/EWGCC: St. Louis, April 1968.
Citizens for Modern Transit. Map of Proposed MetroLink Extensions. Prepared 1995.
East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. "MetroLink Corridors" map. Prepared October 1997.
McKenna, Joseph P. Urban Travel in St. Louis. University of Missouri-St. Louis Center of Community and Metropolitan Studies: St. Louis, June 28, 1971.
St. Louis Board of Public Service. Report on Rapid Transit for St. Louis: Submitted to the Board of Aldermen September 1926. City of St. Louis: St. Louis, 1926.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Cities Plead Their Case for Shifting of Page Avenue Funds to MetroLink," by Phil Sutin. October 24, 1997. News section.
South County Times. "Opposition Mounts to Nov. 4 MetroLink Vote," by Kevin Murphy. p. 1.
Transportation Survey Commission of the City of St. Louis. Report of the Transportation Survey Commission of the City of St. Louis: Submitted to the Board of Aldermen July 1930. City of St. Louis: St. Louis, 1930.
Urban Mass Transit Administration and East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. St. Louis Metro Link Project: Final Environmental Impact Statement. U.S. Dept. of Transportation: St. Louis, September 1987.
Young, Andrew D. "Lobbying for Light Rail in St. Louis," The New Electric Railway Journal. Winter 1995-96 Issue. Electric Railway Press: Washington, 1995.
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