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Notes From a MetroLink Luncheon

May 17, 2006 Events/Meetings, Public Transit 12 Comments

Yesterday I attended a luncheon hosted by CMT & WTS and sponsored by consultants HNTB. Speakers were Metro CEO Larry Salci and East-West Gateway Project Manager Donna Day.

Salci painted a rosy picture of the Cross County MetroLink extension, promising they will meet the budget and time table set in March 2005. That budget, $676 million, is $85 million per mile. Salci also indicated their budget for FY2007, which begins on July 1, 2006, is balanced. However, for FY2008 they are projecting at $28 million deficit due to various reasons such as deferred payments on Cross County, new rules on funding of employee pensions, and operations of the new lines. Salci indicated they plan to ask voters for another 1/4 cent sales tax just to break even.

Salci indicated the public will be “pleasantly surprise” by the completion date. The expected completion is around October but he said they are doing well on their schedule and that we’ll be seeing testing soon. Expect more news next month.

Donna Day elaborated on the Northside/Southside Study that her team is conducting. For the most part her talk was not much more than what we’d get from the study website. For a few months now we’ve been hearing talk of the team evaluating alternate routes to those that were considered the locally preferred routes back in 2000. Well, she showed these alternates for the first time. But, following the meeting, I was asked not to share what they were. Nothing would be gained by telling you now so I’ll just give you a hint.

One alternate to the Northside route was shown. It was, for the most part, a variation of the published route. On the Southside a couple of variations on the published route were shown in addition to a few completely different choices. The original 2000 routes as well as these alternates will be shown during a series of public meetings to be held next month:


Tuesday, June 13, 2006
5:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club
2901 N. Grand
St. Louis, MO 63101
Presentations at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006
3:30 p.m. -6:00 p.m.
Downtown St. Louis Partnership
906 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63101
Presentations at 4:00 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.


Thursday, June 15, 2006
5:00 p.m. -7:30 p.m.
Monsanto Center
Missouri Botanical Garden
4500 Shaw Blvd. (at Vandeventer)
St. Louis, MO 63110
Presentations at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

If we look at our current MetroLink system, as well as the soon to open Cross County extension, we can see that it has only a few at-grade street crossings. The new line, in fact, goes to great lengths to avoid any intersections. So it is no wonder East-West Gateway is taking a safe approach to suggesting the new proposed routes run in-street. That is, they are suggesting “reserved” lanes rather than mixed traffic. Physically this would look like a median down the middle of the street with poles for the overhead wires.

The implications are that crossing the street by foot, bike or car would only be possible at major intersections. The pros, they argue, is as a regional system the travel times are simply too high in a “mixed-traffic” system. At issue is how new systems are funded, they must show the new line will provide a time savings for commuters. So, the modern streetcar system I’ve advocated here before can provide excellent localized service but cannot compete with car travel from the suburbs. So, all we need to do is get Congress to change how they fund new transit systems…

– Steve


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. Rob says:

    The problem with the current (incl. expansion) system is that it almost always runs below or above grade, making transit-oriented development almost impossible. Not to mention the crime at stops that are under bridges. A reserved lane route would be the best thing to lead to increased ridership and TOD

  2. tom says:

    Although I agree that the current design of MetroLink leaves something to be desired, I think the greater problem of TOD has been elected officials, developers and lenders believing St. Louisans would want to live auto oriented environment. There is beginning to be some change along the new alignment with developers buying up land near stations. Hopefully, they will learn from what is happing in other cities around transit including good transit access, walkable and mixed use.

  3. oakland says:

    Salci indicated the public will be “pleasantly surprise” by the completion date. The expected completion is around October but he said they are doing well on their schedule and that we’ll be seeing testing soon. Expect more news next month.

    I think the public would be pleasantly surprised by the completion date if they opened it tomorrow — then the project wouldn’t have been an entire year behind schedule. Doubly pleasantly suprised if Salci finds $150 million under a couch cushion.

    I don’t think many people want Metro overseeing another construction project in this town unless they’re going to give us an assurance that it won’t be as huge of a trainwreck as this expansion.

  4. john says:

    Not having Metrolink in the center of major highways has been a HUGE mistake. The best ad available is watching the trains fly by you and other auto drivers remain stuck in traffic.

    As someone who has lived along Chicago’s lakefront for over 25 years and have ridden their trains, busses and els thousand of times to get around the city and suburbs, the aforementioned conclusion is a fact. Even the Metrolink stations are poorly placed in the current expansion which will increase commuting times and reduce ridership.

    The current route system of Metrolink is inefficient and designed to make potential users remain in their cars.

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    You’ve sort hit the nail on the head. Any study has goals. If the goal is to move commuters in from the suburbs, you need to minimize the number of stops to make travel quicker. And if you can provide a dedicated right-of-way, you avoid most of the delays caused by other traffic, and further improve travel times, making it more attractive. Plus you need to go where the commuters want to go. Greater St. Louis has only three or four areas with enough density and enough commuters to support meaningful public transit (Downtown, Clayton, BJC and UMSL). The rest of the area, due to low densities and free parking, simply isnÂ’t conducive to attracting riders to public transit. (Park-and-rides, however, do create virtual density since they concentrate potential commuters in one location.)

    If the goal is to serve a local area, you want to increase both the number of stops and the frequency of service, likely with smaller vehicles, to make it convenient for local pedestrians. Unfortunately, this usually increases costs, since it requires more union-wage operators to move the same number of riders. Typically, this also results in service on the linear commercial streets that radiate out of any downtown. Using these corridors for commuting is usually doesnÂ’t work as well, but it is a valid choice. And it can be made to work like theyÂ’re doing in Los Angeles, where local and express buses share the same corridors. An ideal transit system will include multiple modes or options that connect well with each other. Not all travel is local, and in an area as large and diverse as greater St. Louis, longer-distance travel is a given for many people.

    A “modern streetcar system” is little more than a glorified, expensive replacement for the bus. Most people in St. Louis (or most any other American city) don’t even consider riding a bus because a) driving is easier and quicker and parking is usually “free”, b) the schedules aren’t frequent enough and transferring is usually a pain in the ass, c) the weather’s too hot or too cold or too rainy to be waiting at a bus (or streetcar) stop, d) it’s for “those” people, primarily the poor, and e) the transit stops are a lot further away than their current parking spots on one or both ends of the trip! While a streetcar would be more attractive (the “cool” factor), it still has all the other negatives that a bus has, so its ability to attract new riders is limited. Better to spend MetroÂ’s limited local resources on maximizing the quantity of service (by being frugal and cost-effective) than in creating a higher-cost alternative that attracts few new riders!

    Until Metro can convince the voters that their transit system serves something other than just the transit-dependent and workers downtown, they probably won’t be getting any more local support (higher taxes). Any talk of increasing local service will depend on improving public perceptions. The Cross-County Connection is a step in the right direction since it primarily serves Clayton and St. Louis County, not St. Louis City. Unfortunately, as we all know, itÂ’s behind schedule and over budget, but it will make it easier to get into Clayton. The question is how many people will switch from driving once the line finally opens? Will it be perceived to be safe and convenient? Will service be increased for special events? Unfortunately, it offers little to voters or potential riders outside of I-270, so “selling” a tax increase will be “challenging”, at best. (Taxes pay substantially more than half of MetroÂ’s budget, so itÂ’s going to take more money to put more service on the streets.)

    Which gets back to your comments about changing CongressÂ’s funding priorities. Congress is spending our money. Sending money to Washington just lets more people get their finger in the pie and reduces the amount that actually gets spent on real projects (see BostonÂ’s Big Dig). Yes, Congress is a funding source for commuter rail projects, but the required local match is much higher now than it was twenty years ago. Metro might now be able to get 60% – 70% of the funding for a well-conceived project from Washington, but we still would need to find 30% – 40% of the funding locally. Bottom line, the money simply ainÂ’t there! Metro is doing some seriously budget juggling now to find the funds to operate the new rail line for a year or two. After that, without a funding increase from St. Louis County, weÂ’re looking at 20% service cuts (and no new projects)!
    Denver probably got it right when their leaders went to the voters in 2004 with FasTracks, a 12-year, $4.7 billion public transportation expansion plan. Increasing the existing dedicated transit sales tax to a full 1% (versus the ¼% – ½% coming in here) will allow the Regional Transportation District to build and operate six new light rail and diesel commuter rail lines radiating out of downtown with a combined length of 119 miles that will open between 2013 and 2016. The proposal passed largely because voters throughout the taxing area could see that they were all “getting” something. The challenge here, with studying only one or two corridors at a time, is that a large number of voters have no reason to vote to raise their taxes. Either theyÂ’re already close to an existing line or they wonÂ’t be seeing one for 20+ years!

  6. Jeff says:

    I have to agree w/ John. However the current metrolink to my knowledge was mostly built on abandoned rail line. Which made it more likely to be built. Shutting down a whole highway to add metrolink would really create a “stink”. There are many people against mass transit. Some people use it for the cards or blues games as a “convienence”. Then they get back in their cars and complain about traffic. Slowly people are figuring things out. St. Louis is slow to adapt especially since they got rid of the street cars years ago. Metro / CMT is having to totally rebuild an infrastructure. Which is hard with all of the NIMBY’s. They complain about bike trails the same way. Then their home values increase! Just like being near mass transit. Just keep hoping gas prices go through the roof and then the heard will swing the other direction.

    Keep Cycling!

  7. Tom says:

    One further thing, on the cost overruns incurred by Metro two thoughts — the decision to build a major tunnel increased the complexity and risk of the job for both Metro and the consultants. Secondly, I think everyone should refrain from judging who is at fault. The trial should be interesting. Sunday’s Post Dispatch article about Kwame, a member of the fired consulting team, allegidly trying to higher former Metro employee Willie Noble was troubling, as was Noble saying he had been interviewed by federal investigators. Stay tuned.

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    “Shutting down a whole highway to add metrolink would really create a ‘stink'” IF it were done as a separate project. We’re already going to be shutting down large portions of Highway 40 AND rebuilding all of its bridges between I-270 and Hampton Avenue, so NOW is the time to at least create a transit corridor / right-of-way, even if track can’t be laid for many years to come. That’s what Denver is wrapping up along I-25 right now (www.trexproject.com)!

    [REPLY – Agreed! We’ve got a 12 mile right of way that we are about to spend hundreds of millions on rebuilding hwy 40 to Boyle. When MetroLink was first built we were able to argue that our downtown tunnels and Eads bridge had value in the project total and thus these assets were considered part of the local match. If we left a center right of way along 40 perhaps the same could be done in the future. – SLP]

  9. JivecitySTL says:

    So is the Cross-County line going to be called the Green Line or what? What’s with all those bus shelter ads in Skinker-DeBaliviere promoting the Green Line? I definitely think they should lose the name “Cross County” because it sounds lame. A color-coded system is much more attractive. Any talk of that?

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    I think they are planning to use colors to identify the lines. The only problem is with color-blind people . . .

  11. SMSPlanstu says:

    I’m calling you out.

    I riden the Chicago lines, Brown, Blue, Green, Purple, Red, and another. The only ones I rode that existed down the highway are the Green and Blue. Both of these lines are not as great as you make them out to be. By being in the highway they lose the advantage of TOD and connecting to neighborhoods.

    “The current route system of Metrolink is
    inefficient and designed to make potential
    users remain in their cars.”

    Let’s not talk the talk without examination.

    Hanley services suburban commutters but a $90 million dollar development is in the works for the surrounding neighborhoods to that station.
    UMSL stations have spurred development and mostly serve the University and do a better job than the Green line for UI technology university on the Chicago southside. UMSL is more compact than that sprawling university with its 70s two story buildings that are more than a mile long and only a few blocks wide.
    The Wellston/Rock Road, Natural Bridge, Delmar, CWE/BJC stations are definitely well placed for spurring development and all but the Natural Bridge station is attracting devp.
    The Grand station is poorly placed along with the Civic Station (still debated by some) & Union Station if we ignore the tourists. The other three downtown stations are amply placed.

    I beg you to examine the facts before you make such a prideful comment and make Chicago a perfect system in one sentence.

    If we could emulate the Brown Chicago line I would be happy.

    Clayton and University Heights stations are placed amply for development or service large job and school centers. The development around the Brentwood line can be rebuilt later.

  12. Steve Menner says:

    Metro finiacial problems are due to several reasons. Missouri spends 6.6 million on transit per year while roads recive over 2 billion dollars. The federal govt. elimnating operating subsides for transit in 2004. while only provides funds for capital improvements. diseal cost has skyrockting just like gas prices. Illinois spends 60.00 per person on transit while missouri spends 1.00 per person on transit. The transit sales tax make up 60 percent of metro operating budget. Considering that roads subside are 80% percent. I think we need to push the federal and state goverment to subisde transit opertations at least 20 percent since roads get four times that much.


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