The St. Louis region needs a high-quality light rail system to connect Florissant/Ferguson and our densely populated South Side to Downtown and the Central Corridor. Now is the time to push for economic investment to help stabilize some of the city and county’s most vulnerable communities. We should be demanding that our local leaders prioritize North Side/South Side MetroLink expansion as imperative to making St. Louis a progressive and economically just metropolitan area.
Public transportation speaks volumes about a society. Lack of transportation is an indicator of economic injustice and is the number one deterrent to employment and community involvement across the country.
Light rail spurs development along its routes, and in St. Louis has resulted in $15 billion in public and private investment along existing MetroLink corridors. Serving 60,000 people daily, 95 percent of whom are traveling to school and work, MetroLink is a huge success.
Why is this imperative now? County Executive Steve Stenger announced at the end of May that St. Louis County is taking a fresh look at expanding the MetroLink.
On the one hand, it is exciting to see renewed interest in light rail in St. Louis County. Yet on the other hand, it is alarming that the expansions mentioned did not include a north/south route, but instead focused on the Clayton-Westport, Lambert-Florissant and Shrewsbury-Butler Hill lines. These three lines fail to provide service to the region’s most densely populated areas and many communities that have the highest need.
The north/south does, and its plan is not new.
In fact, the north/south line has been the favored expansion in the region for 15 years. In 2000, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, with MODOT and Metro, completed an analysis of major transportation projects in the region. The corridor that showed the most promise for transportation investment was the north/south line.
In 2005 and 2008, the council followed up with a detailed study of the route. The corridor goes from Downtown, runs through North City up to the county, along North Florissant and Natural Bridge before reaching St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley. Headed south from Downtown, the route follows Jefferson before joining South Broadway and the I-55 corridor.
So what is Stenger doing? St. Louis County passed the Prop A tax increase for Metro in 2010, which means they have continued to collect about $40 million annually specifically for a MetroLink expansion. With this new study underway, it’s possible a route will be selected that primarily benefits small portions of the county and provides only limited economic value to the region.
I’m a newly elected alderman representing the 20th Ward, one of the most densely populated areas in the City of St. Louis and one of the most vulnerable, with an unemployment rate of 18.7 percent. The north/south line would go right through the 20th Ward and give us access to the jobs being created in the Central Corridor. It would also spur development in our community, and others like ours on the North Side, after decades of disinvestment.
As a member of the Friends of the NorthSouth MetroLink Expansion, we are reaching out for partners in social justice to build a coalition of support for the NorthSouth MetroLink Expansion. We need to tell Stenger that we demand that Prop A money be used in a fair, just and equitable way. We need to build a case for all leaders to make this a top priority for our region. Please join us in the fight to prioritize the north/south MetroLink expansion.
Cara Spencer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is alderman of the 20th Ward in the City of St. Louis.