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St. Louis to re-examine north-south MetroLink expansion with $2 million study

A MetroLink train
File Photo | St. Louis Public Radio
MetroLink is up and running following a crash in Pagedale Wednesday. (St. Louis Public Radio)

The St. Louis Parking Commission is putting up $2 million to study a possible north-south MetroLink expansion. Members voted unanimously Thursday to spend funds from the Parking Division’s unrestricted reserves to re-examine the 17-mile route that would connect St. Louis’ downtown to north and south St. Louis County.

The vote authorizes money to go in $200,000 increments to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, which is conducting the study and has already issued a request for cost estimates from consultant firms.

City of St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones called the expansion “one of the most important projects in our region with the capacity to spur employment, development and the economy.”

According to Jones, city code requires the treasurer’s office to conduct periodic studies on parking, which take certain factors into account, including public transportation.

The proposed route through the city has several advantages over three smaller MetroLink expansions proposed for St. Louis County, said Jones, including its alignment with state and federal priorities.

Jones cited a reportby the Ferguson Commission that concludes expanding public transit is a key to improving opportunities for St. Louisans.

She said the proposed rail expansion also would pass through a so-called "Promise Zone" in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County that prioritizes federal resources for distressed communities.

“Also, the Department of Justice is looking at this, so is EPA, so is HUD — so, it’s a real combination of federal entities looking at expanding MetroLink. So, I think we’re in the middle of a perfect storm right now.”

The study will examine the feasibility, costs and impact of a light rail line that would run from near the Florissant Valley campus of St. Louis Community College through downtown St. Louis to the Meramec River near Interstate 55 in south St. Louis County. 

Similar studies conducted in 2000 and 2008 are now outdated, said Jones. The new study is important to “get in the pipeline” for federal funding that would ultimately be needed to build the estimated $2.2 billion project.

“The study takes about two years to update and with all other things being equal, if we are awarded [the funds] from the [Federal Transit Administration], we could see shovels going in the ground in about two to two-and-a-half years,” she said.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has said securing plans for a north-south MetroLink expansion is his top priority before he leaves office next year. However, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has not endorsed it, arguing that the three other routes that mostly extend into the county should also be considered.

Last month the St. Louis County Council approved spending $3 million from the Proposition A sales-tax fund to pay for studying the routes. Those proposals include extending the Blue Line west from Clayton to Westport Plaza; a south county expansion from Shrewsbury to Butler Hill Road and extending the Red Line north from North Hanley Station to just south of Interstate 270.

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy