Saint Louis City To Waste Sales Tax Monies On Streetcars, Transit-Oriented Development
Saint Louis City officials released their wish list for the anticipated $260 million from the proposed 0.75 cent statewide transportation sales tax. Many of the projects on the list propose reasonable improvements to streets, bike routes, and pedestrian paths. However, two of the largest ticket items, namely, a Downtown-Central West End Streetcar and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station, are examples of government waste in the extreme.
We have written many times about the boondoggle that is the modern streetcar movement. Streetcars are incredibly expensive, often with a price tag of more than $50 million per mile, and do little to improve mobility. Claims that streetcars induce economic development are anecdotal at best, as streetcar lines are always paired with significant subsidies for developers and related investment.
Despite the very real costs of streetcars and their dubious benefits, Saint Louis City officials propose spending $35 million on Phase I of a streetcar from downtown to the Central West End. If the whole downtown to CWE Streetcar could actually be built for that amount, perhaps my objection would be less vehement. However, the total cost of the plan is estimated to be $540 million. That makes this Phase I investment less than 7 percent of the plan’s total costs. Even if the city can convince the federal government to unwisely pay for half of the total, the city still has to raise another $235 million. If the experience of other cities is any guide, Saint Louisans are in store for higher sales taxes, property taxes, and parking fees to pay the balance.
Another wasteful request is a plan to make “improvements” to the Forest Park-DeBaliviere and Delmar MetroLink stops. These improvements will waste taxpayer dollars to subsidize Transit-Oriented Development near MetroLink stations and accompanying aesthetic improvements. We have written about the empty promises of TOD, and this project is no exception. TOD often is nothing more than corporate welfare enabled by urban planners, succeeding only in diverting development at taxpayer expense.
TOD rarely succeeds in greatly increasing transit ridership, even if it can attract residents in the first place (not a given). If the MetroLink and the planned Loop Trolley are not enough incentive to bring more housing or new businesses near MetroLink stations, there is little reason spend $14 million of transportation sales tax money to make it happen.
Saint Louis City’s transportation wish list is just another example of why the proposed 0.75 cent sales tax is not good policy. Supposedly necessary because the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) cannot fund necessary highway improvements, the money instead will be spent on projects (or 7 percent of a project) with political support, not transportation merit.