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Report finds job boost from increased transit spending

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – A new report funded by a mass transit advocacy coalition says increased spending on public transit could generate more than 180,000 new jobs in five years.

The Transportation Equity Network studied 20 metropolitan areas, all of which had organizations in the network. St. Louis was among those studied

Researchers at the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis found that $1 billion spent on public transit projects generates more jobs than the same $1 billion spent on roads and bridges, said lead research Todd Swanstrom, mostly because transit projects, especially transit operations, are more labor-intensive. The study found that St. Louis, which spent the smallest amount of the regions studied on mass transit, generated just 31,257 jobs for each $1 billion spent. Halving the amount spent on highways and redirecting it to mass transit would lead to a net gain of 7,000 jobs over five years, the researchers concluded. A job was defined as one full-time job for one year.

Easier said than done, said Maggie Hales, the interim executive director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the regional planning agency in St. Louis.

"Although the conclusion may very well be correct, it is at the end of the day kind of a difficult political decision to spend money on transit if it's not going to benefit their own area," Hales said. Four of the eight counties represented on the council are not served by Metro, the area's mass transit agency. But, Hales said, they all approved Metro's long-range plan which includes expansions of light rail and possible bus rapid transit.

"It's not as if in every instance it makes sense to put money in transit and not in highways. You have to make that judgment in every region," Swanstrom said. "But especially as energy costs rise in the future, it's going to make more sense to invest in transit." He added that the Transportation Equity Network understood the need to keep current roads in good shape.

Critics called the report propaganda, saying its results were foregone conclusions. That wasn't the case, Swanstron said.

"The number of jobs after you subtract, for example, the highway jobs that are lost, the number of jobs is not as high as some people thought," he said. "So there might be transit advocates who would like to see a higher number there."

Swanstrom said the researchers did have problems getting information about regional transit plans. Planning agencies need to improve their transparency about where and how funding is allocated, he said.