Metro, St. Louis’s transit agency, claims (p. i) MetroLink has helped spur $2.2 billion in development. However, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT)—the region’s major transit advocacy group—thinks Metro is being far too modest. According to CMT, “transit generates growth. To date, more than $16 billion in new development has occurred within a ten minute walk of MetroLink.” Hopefully, CMT isn’t trying to imply that MetroLink is responsible for all, or even most of that development. A quick look at some of these projects will show how tenuous the connection is between MetroLink and the development that CMT cites. For example:
- Over $440 million in road, bridge, and parking garage investments. That’s right, asphalt to drive and park your car on. (Most curious are improvements to Interstates 64 and 70.)
- $3.4 billion in renovations and expansions of established institutions like Barnes Jewish Hospital, Washington University, Saint Louis University, and the University of Missouri–St. Louis—investments that likely would have occurred with MetroLink or without.
- Another $785 million from government agencies and publicly funded sources—not the privately funded, mixed-use development rail advocates promise.
- CMT even associates another transit project—the $51 million Loop Trolley—with MetroLink.
Who, besides those ideologically wedded to rail, would think MetroLink is primarily responsible for these projects?
The chart below shows other developments that CMT associates with MetroLink. Even charitably assuming a causal link between rail investments and development, much of the economic activity CMT cites is tangentially related—at best—to MetroLink. So, be wary of claims about the economic payoff from rail investments. If MetroLink was so good at driving development, its advocates wouldn’t have to cast such a wide net for evidence of its success.