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Jones hopes federal infrastructure bill provides jolt for MetroLink expansion

Officials are considering the addition of turnstiles to the MetroLink system.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The federal infrastructure bill could provide new momentum to a long-delayed proposal to expand MetroLink into south St. Louis, north St. Louis and north St. Louis County.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is talking with federal and St. Louis County officials about a long-stalled effort to expand MetroLink.

During a media availability with reporters on Tuesday, Jones said the federal infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law Monday could provide momentum to a proposal that would expand the light rail service into south and north St. Louis and north St. Louis County. That plan is widely known as the “North/South MetroLink proposal.”

“I’ll be meeting with the Federal Transit Administration later today to highlight our collaboration with St. Louis County on the North/South MetroLink and transit — and how we’ll move forward,” Jones said.

St. Louis voters approved a sales tax increase in 2017 that earmarked 60% of the proceeds for transit.

Since that vote, about $41 million has been collected at the end of fiscal 2021, according to city Budget Director Paul Payne. He said there’s “little to no expenditures” from that fund.

“In the fiscal year 2022 budget, $1 million was allocated for a potential update to the transit study but otherwise no other expenditures budgeted,” Payne said. “Projected balance for the end of the current fiscal could top $51 million.”

Any version of the North/South MetroLink line would take hundreds of millions of dollars in local and federal money to complete.

Asked if the federal infrastructure bill presented an opportunity to either use that money for MetroLink expansion or figure out another way to utilize the sales tax proceeds, Jones said she was working with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on updating a critical study needed to get the project moving forward.

“And now with the infrastructure bill, and we’re continuing the study with St. Louis County, I think this is the time to pursue that,” Jones said. “This is not the time to say, ‘Let’s use that money for something else.’ This is the time for us to continue forward on that project.”

One of the hang-ups on getting a North/South MetroLink plan off the ground was resistance from St. Louis County, which provides the most money for the transit service. Past St. Louis County executives have wanted to expand MetroLink to places like Maryland Heights.

Jones, though, said that she and Page are “in sync” on the issue, adding, “We’ve discussed updating the study to include expansion in the county and what that expansion would look like in the county.”

“We can’t say that it goes in North County without a study first,” Jones said.

Jones also said the city has significant needs on its roads, including two bridges in and around the Midtown area. During a media availability on Monday, Page said the county had nearly $200 million worth of unmet needs in “fixing our roads in the community.”

“We’re partnering with the City of St. Louis to study the possibility of expansion of the MetroLink line,” Page said. “And we’ll be talking about that as well.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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