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Sunday Poll: Can A STL-KC Hyperloop Get Built Without The Use Of Eminent Domain?

February 9, 2020 Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Can A STL-KC Hyperloop Get Built Without The Use Of Eminent Domain?
Please vote below

The idea of a high speed tube transportation system connecting St. Louis to Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas) was back in the news recently after getting initial approval the Missouri House:

Although the long-term goal is to connect St. Louis and Kansas City with a pneumatic tube people mover that could transport passengers across the state in 30 minutes, a recent study commissioned by House Speaker Elijah Haahr recommends the state should first build a 15-mile track to test the feasibility of the concept.

The report put the price tag on the test track at $300 million to $500 million. The cost to build a track linking St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City is estimated at $10.4 billion.

Before lawmakers gave their approval, however, Fitzwater proposed an amendment that would ban eminent domain for tube transport systems. (Post-Dispatch)

For those unfamiliar with the term eminent domain

Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners. (Wex legal dictionary)

My one and only Hyperloop poll was in October 2018, and readers were split on Missouri being able to afford such a massive project.

Today’s poll is about the amendment banning the use of eminent domain added to the Hyperloop bill.

As always, today’s poll will close at 8pm. On Wednesday I’ll share my thoughts on Hyperloop and eminent domain.

— Steve Patterson

 

Volunteer Labor Should Be Considered To Restart Loop Trolley

February 3, 2020 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Volunteer Labor Should Be Considered To Restart Loop Trolley

Last week Mayor Krewson asked Metro to reconsider the idea of restarting the Loop Trolley by pooling unspent federal money. Metro’s board recently rejected the idea.

Loop Trolley 001, November 2018

If a way isn’t found to restart the short-lived trolley, St. Louis City & County might be on the hook for millions in federal funds used for the project.

That was a reference to a Federal Transit Administration official’s statement Friday that if the trolley wasn’t revived, his agency could file a lawsuit to recover $25 million in federal grant money that had been used to help build the trolley line and related projects.

The official, regional administrator Mokhtee Ahmad, said there would be no effort to recover $11 million in other trolley-related federal spending because those were “street projects that would be done anyway.” (Post-Dispatch)

While I’m not a fan of historic trolley lines, I hate to see this huge effort & financial investment go unused. I especially hate the idea of the City & County having to come up with another $25 million to repay the feds.

The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle, March 2017

Everyone, including myself, thought transit agency Metro was the only option to revive the trolley. The problem is the fares & sales tax collected collected in the transportation district aren’t enough to cover operating expenses. Either the revenue needs to go up, or expenses go down — or some combination.

My thought turned to historic trolley lines I’ve experienced, wondering how they’re financed & operated. How do they make it work? The cities I’ve experience vintage/heritage streetcars are: New OrleansLittle RockMemphisSan Francisco, and Dallas.

All of the above, except Dallas, are operated by the local transit agency. All have operated for years, some decades. All have been expanded from their original length.

At least San Francisco and Dallas use a nonprofit and volunteer labor. While I haven’t examined the operating budget, I have no doubt that labor is a large portion — so reducing labor to one or two nonprofit staff might help the trolley line break even.

Dallas’ McKinney Ave Trolley (aka M-Line) in July 2012

Dallas’ McKinney Avenue Transit Authority model is worth considering:

Founded in 1983 with the intent of returning heritage streetcars to the streets of Dallas, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority successfully accomplished that goal in July of 1989. The M-Line’s air-conditioned and heated, restored vintage trolleys operate 365 days a year, providing safe, clean, and convenient public transportation, free of charge (except charters) in Dallas’ vibrant Uptown Neighborhood.

Since it’s beginnings, MATA’s fleet has grown from its original two cars to today’s beautifully restored seven car fleet, operating year-round for over half a million rides a year. The once 2.8-mile track now covers almost 5 miles from Cityplace’s Uptown Station to the Downtown Arts District and back.

For 30 years, MATA has seen the city grow around it, and is an institution serving Dallasites and visitors with this unique, fun, reliable transportation. (MATA)

It wasn’t always free, but they recognized asking for donations works better for them. Groups can also charter a trolley.

Dallas’ McKinney Ave Trolley in May 2015.

I fully recognize this idea might not work here, there might be unique circumstances to prevent it. We already have a taxing district working for some funding and a nonprofit that operated the trolley. From their volunteer page:

McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is looking for a few good men and women!

Ever dream of being a Motorman. . . of a restored, vintage streetcar? Like working with your hands restoring vintage trolleys? Enjoy woodworking, mechanics, problem-solving? You are in luck! McKinney Avenue Trolley needs your help.

We are seeking volunteers to be trained as Motormen or Conductors to operate and greet passengers on our 7-car fleet of trolleys. We also need skilled volunteers to help us restore trolleys – inside and out.

Like working on special events to help us raise funds or marketing campaigns or App design to help enhance the trolley experience? We can use your talents!

Interested? Complete the form below and we’ll set up an interview.

This could the best volunteer position you ever had!

Every region has residents who have an interest in operating old trolleys, or an interest in the maintenance side. I could also see a connection with our local trade schools.

As part of due diligence I think it’s worth considering a volunteer labor model.

—Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis Lambert International Airport Needs An Open Regional Approach, Not Private Shareholders

January 15, 2020 Featured, Politics/Policy, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on St. Louis Lambert International Airport Needs An Open Regional Approach, Not Private Shareholders

Recently St. Louis Mayor  Lyda Krewson announced the process to consider bids to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which began with her predecessor, was dead. To many of us this was a good thing.

This dawn photograph of the Lambert Main Terminal was taken in June 1956, less than 4 months after its opening. Photograph by Ralph D’Oench, Missouri Historical Society Collections

Whenever I’d post about airport privatization a reader would post a comment like this:

What the vast majority of people who oppose privatization don’t know is that — in spite of the airport bringing in significantly more revenue than expenses — the City of St. Louis only gets roughly $6 million towards general revenue.

The 1994 FAA reauthorization bill banned airports from taking airport revenue and using it for non-airport uses. St. Louis is one of about a dozen airports which were grandfathered in, but are limited to the amount of money they took at that time, adjusted for inflation.

If the airport were privatized, all revenues from the lessor would be able to go towards general revenue — which would be significantly more than the $6 million a year today.

So basically this is preventing St. Louis from pulling too much money out of the airport, requiring most revenue to service airport debt and to reinvest.

Privatization would enable more money to be siphoned out of the airport — money the winning bidder would cheerfully send to their shareholders, out of state/country home office, donate to friendly politicians, and pay former politicians working as consultants. The city would also get more revenue for new trash trucks, etc.  Would private management at the airport enable it to generate more revenue than it currently does to offset the money leaving the airport? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Airports are important to the region they serve. The City of St. Louis is a small part of the region — both population and land area. Decisions made about the airport should place the interests of the region ahead of shareholders.

Airports, it seems, are the new convention centers — pressure to keep up with others. A recent story on this:

The average airport in the U.S. is now 40 years old, and experts estimate $128 billion in new investment is needed over the next five years just to keep up with the growing number of flyers.

Van Cleave asked Barnes, “Things stay the way they are now, will a traveler’s experience at U.S. airports get better or worse in the years to come?”

“Quite frankly, we think it’ll get worse,” she replied.

That fear has led to a nationwide building boom, with major overhauls in progress at nearly 50 airports – including Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City. (CBS News)

Our airport an important asset for the city & region. Rather than go down the privatization route, the city & region need to have open dialog about what we want from our airport, set goals. Then we need brainstorming on ways to achieve these goals.

Not a backdoor process designed to enrich the few players. We need to reach a consensus on the problems and possible solutions. Not sure this is even possible in our city/region.

Here are the non-scientific results of the recent Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Mayor Krewson should not have abruptly ended the privatization process without first reviewing some bids.

  • Strongly agree: 2 [9.52%]
  • Agree: 1 [4.76%]
  • Somewhat agree: 0 [0%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [4.76%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 1 [4.76%]
  • Disagree: 5 [23.81%]
  • Strongly disagree: 11 [52.38%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

I’m glad the process stopped when it did because I can hear elected officials saying “It’s too late to stop now” has it continued. Remember, always follow the money.

— Steve Patterson

 

More Changes Coming To Central West End Light Rail Station

December 23, 2019 Central West End, Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on More Changes Coming To Central West End Light Rail Station

When our light rail line, MetroLink, opened in July 1993 the Central West End (CWE) station was one of the original.  This was prior to the city vacating Euclid Ave. for vehicular travel. For the next 13 years the station operated with two separate platforms — one for eastbound and one for westbound — with the tracks in the center,

In August 2006 the new Blue Line opened further west.  But the CWE station had been rebuilt from two platforms to one center platform. This reduced elevators from two to one.

July 2010 looking down on the station from what used to be Euclid Ave on the west.
Looking east toward Taylor from the CWE MetroLink platform, 2014

The station, the busiest in the system, remain largely unchanged until last year when the platform was extended in length. The trains aren’t any longer, but the eastbound trains now stop further east from the stair/elevator. This was done to reduce pedestrian congestion.

Construction on the platform extension, November 2018.

So what’s changing? From Metro’s December 20th press release:

Station Redesign Details:

  • New, monitored entrance/exit at the street level from Euclid Avenue on the west end of the station featuring a welcome center at the top of the stairs that lead down to the MetroLink platform
  • A new, wider staircase with a center handrail connecting the new Euclid Avenue entrance/exit to the platform to better accommodate passengers
  • Relocating the elevator on the station platform to relieve congestion
  • New, upgraded platform lighting
  • An expanded canopy to cover 70% of the MetroLink platform. The current canopy covers 30% of the MetroLink platform.
  • Safety improvements including a speed bump, stop sign, and new lighting at the entry to the MetroBus area of the garage which connects to the east entrance/exit of the platform.

Construction begins today, the elevator will be closed starting Thursday (12/26/19). When the station was reconfigured in 2006 they should’ve made the platform wider. Hopefully the new station will have a substantially larger elevator — and that a wheelchair user waiting for the elevator won’t block others.

Obviously during the construction those of us that need the elevator will have to use the east end of the platform and enter/exit via the CWE MetroBus Transit Center. Metro’s release indicates other closures may happen throughout the project but that advance notice will be given.  Unfortunately, they did not indicate how long this project will last.

— Steve Patterson

 

Highway On-Ramp Over Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Reopened

December 16, 2019 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Highway On-Ramp Over Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center Reopened

Westbound ramps onto I-64, aka highway 40, are now reopened after being closed since late September:

Starting next Monday, drivers heading west from downtown will need to avoid the ramp from 14th Street to westbound I-64, as crews will close the ramp for two months to remove, repair and replace the driving surface.

Crews will close the ramp after 7 a.m. Monday, September 23. It is expected to reopen in mid-November. (MoDOT)

The ramp from 14th Street didn’t open in November, as originally planned. It reopened earlier this month.

The underside of the ramp in early August.
Same ramp on December 2nd

This ramp was interesting as it goes over Metro’s Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center. It’ll be nice not having to go around all the barricades when going from bus to light rail, and vice versa.

New infrastructure is sexier, but it is far more efficient to maintain what we’ve already got — we can’t afford neglect and total replacement.

— Steve Patterson

 

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