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An Update on the Loop Trolley From the Mayor

Mayor Shelley Welsch's latest blog post.

As I hope you know, there is a public meeting on the Loop trolley project scheduled for Wednesday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the . This meeting was scheduled to give residents another opportunity to ask questions about and get details on the Loop trolley project. I will be running the meeting. Representatives of the Loop Trolley Company and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments will be on hand to discuss the project. Doug R. Campion, of the Campion Group, LLC, the project manager, will also be on hand. Mr. Campion, who formerly worked with the Federal Transit Administration, recently arrived on this project and will be the person in charge of overseeing the construction of the project if and when it moves forward.

I would like to provide a bit of background on the project because, during recent public discussions, I realized there was some incorrect information floating around – not unusual on a project of this size, and this type.

The City of St. Louis received the $24,990,000 grant from the federal government for the Loop trolley project – it is a Federal Urban Circulator Grant, overseen by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Of that amount, $2,880,000 was for the design of the system, which went to the East-West Gateway Council of Goverments which was deemed to be technically and financially able to move forward with the project.

East-West Gateway brought on the Loop Trolley Company to work on the design of the system. At this point the design is 60 percent complete. Much work has been done, but the design is not set in stone.

A Loop Trolley Transportation Development District (TDD) was formed in 2008 in the expectation that, eventually, this TDD would be technically and financially ready to take control of the Loop trolley project. The FTA makes that decision, and should let us know by the end of this month if they think the project is feasible or not.

If it is determined not to be feasible, the remaining grant funds ($22,110,000 for construction) could be withdrawn and be given to a project elsewhere in the country.

The TDD has spent time since 2008 organizing; designing and accepting policies/procedures for the District; and building the financial capacity needed to be deemed by the FTA as ready to take charge of the trolley project. This board is scheduled to start meeting monthly in July of 2012 in the expectation that the FTA will sign-off affirmatively on the project by July 1, 2012.

At a meeting of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District Board on Thursday, June 14, we were advised of the following:

  • The trolley will cost $41,500,000 to build. As of a few weeks ago, the project had targeted $40,700,000 in revenue for the project. In an effort to bring the cost of the project in line with projected revenues, value engineering was utilized. (Value engineering can be defined as providing the necessary functions at the lowest cost – in other words, deciding what you want to do/build, and figuring out how to do/build that at the lowest possible cost with no loss of quality or integrity to the project.)
  • After a Value Engineering Committee meeting with East West Gateway COG, the Loop Trolley Company engineering team, and representatives from and the City of St. Louis, it was decided that the western terminus of the line will be in front of the University City Public Library or just east of Kingsland; there may be one track only on Delmar from Kingsland to Melville; and it’s recommended that the roundabout remain – this part of the project is totally grant-funded and will increase safety at this intersection.
  • The “station” on Delmar Boulevard will be a simple structure, designed as a place for customers to get off/on the trolley. In times of anticipated high ridership, one additional trolley car may be parked behind the in-use trolley. No more than one car would ever remain parked on Delmar.
  • The latest budget for the operation/maintenance of the trolley system is an estimated $1.1 million. 

The costs for operation/maintenance are expected to be covered as follows:

  • $343,000/year from riders’ fares. This is 30 percent for what is called “fare box recovery.” In the initial estimates the local group estimated fare box recovery at 60 percent. The FTA thought that was too high, so the figure was moved downward.
  • $856,000 from the TDD annual revenues. The TDD revenues are running higher than anticipated at this time. This $856,000 estimate is based on current revenues ($720,000 as of May 2012), which are projected to grow to $856,000 by 2014.
  • $70,000 from ad revenue for advertisements in the trolley cars.

This totals $1,269,000 — $169,000 more than the current projected operating/maintenance budget.

The trolley hours, right now, are planned to be:

  • Sunday through Thursday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.

It is hoped that revenue growth will allow for the hours to be expanded.

Following is a document prepared by City staff since the recent decision to change the cars on the Loop system, and the concern expressed by some in our community – a timeline for  University City involvement in the project and supporting documents. Note, the City of University City has provided about $250,000 to the Loop trolley project and has made no commitment to provide additional funding in the future for the operation and maintenance of the system.

Loop Trolley Milestones University City

Staff also prepared another, larger document, with the supporting documents mentioned in this attached file. It is too large for me to upload – if you would like to receive a copy of that file please let me know at mayor@ucitymo.org.

Finally, I was pleased to see that “The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis is issuing a Request for Qualifications for consultant services to provide a feasibility study for a streetcar serving downtown St. Louis, Midtown, and the Central West End.” Applications are due next month.

Barbara Bishop June 19, 2012 at 11:28 AM
I'd like to see us make the grown up decision and pass on this now given the economic circumstances we face. Even if "the money will go to another project somewhere else" it would be so refreshing to see a politician take the hard stand of saying NOT NOW. We are broke and it's time our elected officials read the memo the rest of us got over 4 years ago.
Earl Higgins June 19, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Barbara, I understand (and completely agree with) the general desire to exercise fiscal restraint in government expenditures. Where we may disagree is whether or not this is the appropriate time for government belt-tightening. Basic Keynesian economics tells us that government expenditures (relative to revenues) should up during economic hard times, when private expenditures would be down, to prevent cataclysmic freefall of the economy. It is during times of economic prosperity that the government should be taking in more revenue than it is spending, to save for inevitable economic downturns in the future. History has shown us that government austerity during an economic downturn only makes the problem worse. Relevant to the trolley discussion, this is the perfect time for infrastructure projects, particularly ones which will foster future economic growth. We have workers ready to do the work (many who are currently out of a job or underemployed); we have local businesses which would really benefit from the increased tourism, we have the grant to do the work, it would be shortsighted (and bad for the local economy) to shut the whole thing down now. One could argue that the trolley isn't perfect, Delmar is crowded, perhaps a more practical public transportation project would be wiser, etc. etc. In my opinion however, it would be a huge mistake to say we should completely abandon the project simply to cut back on government expenditures.
Craig Brown June 19, 2012 at 02:56 PM
"Note, the City of University City has provided about $250,000 to the Loop trolley project and has made no commitment to provide additional funding in the future for the operation and maintenance of the system." So, $250,000 and the maintenance of Delmar FOREVER. At least be honest about the cost. I can't find the $$ in the 2013 budget but the ongoing maintenance of this section road is no small expense. AND, U-City is taking over the cost of the road before we're even are sure the project will move forward! If it is delayed or canceled, will St. Louis County take the road back??? "On Monday, April 23, St. Louis County advised us that it wants to divest itself of Delmar Boulevard from the Lion Gate east to the City limits. The County does not want to maintain any roadway where the trolley will run. The County says that this section will no longer be an arterial road – the County does maintain arterial roads throughout the County." A Transfer of Authority: a Little Bit of Delmar Boulevard Mayor Shelley Welsch's blog. By Shelley Welsch April 25, 2012
elizabeth ann cohen June 20, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I cant see a ridership for the trolley. If people come from the west county they will arrive by car most likely and will want to park in the residential neighborhoods in order to take the trolley. But they would only ride a block to enjoy the shops,movie etc. and would not pay a fare for the short ride-especially if they hve children and extra expense. The younger crowd would walk . I fear that the traffic conjestion will be increased and what was a nice developement in the loop will be ruined by overkill and we will be left with the expense for a failed project. Elizabeth Cohen

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