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But Will It Pay For Itself?

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Metro South MetroLink study meeting in South County. This was the final public meeting to close out the study period. Public comment continues until January 6, 2006.

After a short presentation an old man asked about a number within the 2 inch thick report that showed the area currently has 2,400 bus riders. He questioned the need for the light rail and “would it pay for itself?” The presenter did a great job with the comeback, “No, it would not be the first in the country to do so.” This man ignored the estimated ridership numbers which were pretty good. Remember, our MetroLink system has continued to exceed expectations in terms of usage. But why pick on transit?

Do people ask if the billion dollars to be spent on the proposed Mississippi River Bridge will pay for itself? No. What about the hundreds of millions already allocated for the rebuilding of I-64/Hwy 40 in the next few years — will that “pay for itself?” I think not. These are all just taken at face value as something we must do.

Why the public continues to apply a different standard to public transportation than to the subsidizing of private auto transportation I’ll never understand. Is it the love of the car? Is it a generational thing?

Fuel taxes don’t pay for all our road building and repairs and we keep building more and more. So much more we are going to struggle even more to maintain our sprawling region. This is a formula for disaster. I say we abolish all fuel taxes and other means of funding road projects. Then we add up the cost of building & maintaining roads on a state by state basis. As you register your vehicle your mileage is recorded and you pay your share based on miles driven. The more miles you drive the more you pay. If you have a car but drive it rarely you pay proportionately less.

Once people start paying on a per mile basis you’ll see a major drop in driving. Car pooling will increase. Transit ridership would rise along with calls for more service. Sprawl would virtually stop. If only…

The best long term investment in public funds is not rebuilding I-64 or building a massive bridge. No, the best investment we can make is to connect more of our region through good public mass transit.

– Steve


Public Input Sought On ‘Metro South’ MetroLink Extension Impact Statement

Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) sent out the following today:

The St. Louis Metro South MetroLink Extension Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) evaluates light rail transit and other alternatives through South St. Louis County and the southern portion of the City of St. Louis. The DEIS has been reviewed by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, Metro, the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration and is ready for circulation and comment by the public. Your review and comment on this DEIS document is an important part of this study.

The DEIS is being distributed to appropriate local, state and federal agencies, legislative bodies and interested organizations. Additional hard copies of the DEIS are available for public viewing at local libraries and other sites in the study area.

The 45-day public comment period began on November 18, 2005 and ends on January 6, 2006. A public hearing/public open house has been scheduled for December 13, 2005 at the Holiday Inn South County at 6971 South Lindbergh Boulevard in the study area from 4 – 7 PM. Following the public comment period, the Study Team will review all comments and prepare responses to each identified issue. All comments and responses will be reported in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, including any appropriate modifications to the project necessary to respond to the comment.

Written comments about the DEIS can be submitted to the Metro South Study, c/o Vector Communications, 701 N. 15th St., Mailbox 43, St. Louis, MO 63103. All comments are due by January 6, 2006, and will be part of the public record.

To clarify just in case anyone gets the various proposed lines confused, the “Metro South” line would continue into South St. Louis County from the station being completed now in Shrewsbury. It would enter a bit of the City of St. Louis near River Des Peres. This line should not be confused with the “Southside” line which will come out of downtown, make its way through the Hill and then eventually end up at I-55 and River Des Peres. When both lines are finished they would connect. Right now this addresses only the Metro South line extending from Shrewsbury.

The many documents in the DEIS can be found here. If you don’t want to spend hours pouring over lots of technical documents I suggest you start with the Executive Summary and go from there if you need more detail.

I’m still reviewing the executive summary myself. It looks like they have quite a few alternative routes that vary greatly in length, area served and total project cost (in 2010 dollars). I’m planning to attend the public meeting next Tuesday (presentations at 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm) to learn more about the project and I hope to have some clear views following that meeting.

All I know at this point is Metro is going to have to do something different to prove to the public that it can handle another MetroLink expansion project. The budget and time frame must be met.

– Steve


Clang, clang, clang went the trolley


Twenty years from now December 5th, 2005, will be regarded as a significant date in the history of the St. Louis region. Why you ask? Today the ribbon was cut to open two restored trolley cars to the public. We are still a long way from the ridding the trolley cars from the History Museum to the U-City City Hall but this was an important next step.

Cutting the ribbon from left to right is Kim Tucci, Joe Edwards, Desmond Lee, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley, and University City Mayor Joseph Adams.

Earlier today, generous St. Louisan Desmond Lee contributed $25,000 toward the $32 million dollar project.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the project here. You can read more from Citizens for Modern Transit, Trolleys To Go, and Heritage Trolley.

What I will say is this cannot come soon enough!

… Continue Reading


Peak Tax Will Hit Before Peak Oil

Regular reader “Brian” posted the following comment to a recent post:

Before peak oil, however, there will be the phenomenon of “peak tax.” Oil demand will certainly outpace oil supply, but even sooner, fuel taxes will not be able to keep up with road building demand.

Folks love new and maintained highways, but they don’t want higher taxes to pay for them. Even if gas prices stay around $2 per gallon in the near future, fuel tax receipts can’t keep up with the American appetite for more lane miles per person.


I hadn’t really given much thought to the issue of transportation funding being tied to fuel taxes but he makes a very good point. Each year we keep building more new roads and bridges, meanwhile our aging roads and bridges need maintenance. Labor and material costs continue to rise. Yet funding for all this is dependent upon using more gasoline.

As we encourage more people to walk, bike, scoot, take the bus or light rail, carpool or to drive more efficient vehicles the less money we are going to have for road building projects. Unless, of course, people start driving more miles. But the pattern is clear, fuel taxes are not keeping pace with road maintenance/building expenses. Something must change.

Either the fuel tax rate must go up or expenses must go down, or some combination of both. Raising the tax rate seems difficult politically. So does lowering costs.

Like today, the City of St. Louis will remain the most compact jurisdiction in the region in the year 2030. St. Louis County trails with the remaining counties at low densities. At one time these low density counties had the bulk of their population concentrated in cities such as East St. Louis IL, Belleville IL or Hillsboro MO. Along with the rest of the country these counties have spent the last 50+ years spreading themselves out in sprawling cul-de-sac subdivisions and strip centers anchored by big box developments.


But let’s look at density from another perspective. I created the chart shown to the left from population and miles of roadway figures supplied by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

More density means you have more people to pay for the infrastructure that is in place, roads in this case. As fuel use flattens out or decreases we’ll need to find other ways to tax ourselves to pay for our roads and bridges. The more people sharing the costs the better. The City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and parts of St. Clair County (East St. Louis) can increase population without the need to create new miles of roads. The other areas are adding population but also adding more and more miles of roads.

This process of continuing to build more and more roads and expensive bridges at such low densities is not sustainable forever. The burden of maintaining this sprawl will be disastrous to our region. We should be investing today in repopulating the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County’s inner-ring suburbs and the close-in municipalities in metro East Illinois. Before everyone jumps to the comment section to tell me people want suburbia and an SUV, I just don’t believe it.

Yes, on the surface that is certainly true. But the American public has been brainwashed over the last 50 years to the point most of our population lives in suburbia and they don’t know anything else. The success of New Urbanist developments, like New Town at St. Charles, across the country as well as renewed interest in cities says to me people are seeking alternatives. The process of vacating cities for sprawl was gradual and took a couple of generations.

Government policy around housing, lending, and roads had much to do with the rise of suburbia. The question is will we as a region be wise enough to see the writing on the wall and change our policies around housing, lending and roads to return to a more sustainable development model? I certainly hope so.

– Steve


San Francisco Contemplates Something St. Louis May Never

St. Louis loves parking. Surface parking lots, new parking garages where historic buildings once graced the streetscape, and parking within warehouses being converted to lofts.

Land values in San Francisco make surface parking lots an economic impossibility. But as dense as San Francisco is, those crazy California’s love their cars as much or more than we do in the midwest. In an effort to reduce car use the city’s Board of Supervisors is considering a drastic measure.

From the San Francisco Examiner:

Proposed legislation that would limit the amount of off-street parking built in new housing was endorsed by the majority of the Planning Commission on Thursday. But the commission recommended the legislation be amended to allow for more parking than currently proposed.

The legislation, sponsored by Supervisor Chris Daly, intends to reduce downtown congestion, promote walkable streets and lower the cost of housing.

The commission on Thursday recommended a maximum of three parking spots for every four units of new housing downtown, while Daly’s legislation calls for one spot for every two units. The legislation would also ban freestanding parking garages downtown.

Yes, San Francisco’s urban-minded supervisors want to restrict the number of parking spaces in downtown residential developments. Keep in mind that San Francisco is far more dense than St. Louis with over twice the number of people per square mile. The downtown resident in San Francisco has many more choices for mass transit along with goods and services within walking distance.

Existing warehouses in downtown St. Louis have a parking limit of sorts — the buildings will only accommodate so much indoor parking. Thus, many downtown loft developments end up with one space per unit. But we are already seeing a point where all the old buildings have been purchased for development. This means we’ll soon see new buildings filling in the vacant gaps around the edges of downtown. With these new buildings may come the call for two spaces per unit.

So while San Francisco is debating 2-3 spaces for every four units we may see 8 spaces for every four units. At this rate, we may never encourage more walking, biking or mass transit use while pricing units beyond the means of many. I’d like to see a cap of say 6 parking spaces for every four units. We could trigger some incentives such as building higher (more units = more $) if parking is reduced to one space per unit. Thinking ahead we should set progressively tighter parking restrictions published well in advance.

So let’s assume we, in the next year or two, impose a limit of six spaces for four units with bonus hight incentives for a 1:1 ratio. Five years later the regular limit might become five spaces for four units with incentives for three spaces for every four units. Another fives years could see this drop again.

– Steve