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Formal planning can begin for MetroLink expansion from Natural Bridge to Chippewa

A Red line train rolls into MetroLink’s Grand Station on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Planning for the expansion of MetroLink in St. Louis can move forward after approval Friday of nearly $7.5 million in funding.

The St. Louis region’s mass transit agency has taken a major step toward expanding MetroLink rail service.

The Bi-State Development Board of Commissioners on Friday authorized hiring a consultant to plan an additional route and authorized spending up to $7.4 million on that this year.

“I think this is something that our community is asking for, that this is a way to build the future of the Greater St. Louis area. And I think, if anything, there's a little impatience with the process,” said Bi-State Development Agency CEO Taulby Roach. “I ask people to be patient with it so that we can be sure that we are building a project that is responsive to the community needs.”

The 5.6-mile rail corridor would run north and south between Natural Bridge and Chippewa, providing access to Union Station and the new soccer stadium, CityPark. Bi-State officials said 75% of residents in the corridor experience persistent poverty. The expansion plan, called the Jefferson Alignment, would help spur economic development in historically underserved areas, they said.

MetroLink Jefferson Alignment
Furnished by Bi-State Development Agency
MetroLink Jefferson Alignment

“We are realizing the vision of a promise that we have had to the community – a promise that entails moving transit assets into areas of traditional divestment, into Black and brown communities that haven't been served by MetroLink to this point,” Roach said. “So, it's a natural progression of going to a policy where we're reaching areas where we really feel transit can impact that region, providing really great job access.”

The program management consultant hired to oversee the project is expected to draw up designs for an application to the federal New Starts funding program, which would provide 60% of funding for construction. That application could be submitted as early as the coming summer, Roach said.

“I'm very optimistic. I met with our Federal Transit [Administration] partners on Monday. They reviewed this alignment. The administrator was impressed. We feel that this will be a very competitive alignment,” Roach said.

Following the Jefferson Alignment expansion, Bi-State has plans for a second expansion that would build on the first project. It is interested in next expanding MetroLink service into north St. Louis County, with a route between north St. Louis and Ferguson. The transit agency has released maps of four potential routes and stops.