Saint Louis Transportation Planning Prioritizes Public Transportation, MetroLink
Saint Louisans depend on a functioning transportation system to do practically everything in their lives, from getting to work to enjoying a night on the town. But keeping transportation infrastructure—be it road, rails, or buses—in good shape takes regular investment. The way a city makes those investments now will affect residents’ daily lives in years to come. However, a look at the recent investment plans of the Saint Louis area reveals a growing disconnect between the systems Saint Louisans use and where the money is going.
The first thing to note about Saint Louis’s transportation system is that it is highly dependent on the highway and street system. In Saint Louis City, Saint Louis County, and Saint Charles County, about 89 percent of commuters either drove or carpooled in 2014. Only 3.4 percent used public transportation. More than half of those who did used buses, which also depend on streets and highways. In terms of the flow of goods, almost 70 percent of freight traffic moves by truck (and hence by road) in the Saint Louis area.
Regional transportation investments for the near future do not reflect these realities. Of the $1.2 billion in federally aided transportation projects slated to move forward in Saint Louis City, Saint Louis County, and Saint Charles County (including multi-state and multicounty projects, the vast majority of which tend to benefit Saint Louis City and County) from 2016 to 2019, 47 percent will be spent on public transportation improvements (see the graph above).
Breaking down the numbers further, investments by Metro (the regional transit agency) will outstrip road & bridge projects made by the Missouri Department of Transportation (which maintains state highways) by more than 30 percent:
Metro will spend about $230 million (45 percent of investments) on the MetroLink, the region’s light rail. This does not include large-scale MetroLink extension plans (aside from a new $13 million station near Grand Ave.), but instead is mostly intended for maintenance and rehabilitation. In all, somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of federally aided transportation investments benefiting Saint Louis City, Saint Louis County, and Saint Charles County will be spent maintaining light rail.
Perhaps increased spending on public transportation will cause residents to get out of their cars and onto the bus or rail. However, anything more than a modest increase in public transportation’s total travel share is unlikely, given the experiences of other cities. That being the case, systematically favoring transportation systems that few residents and no freight companies use over the one that quite literally moves the metropolitan area is asking for trouble.