Even with an Updated Route, MetroLink Expansion is a Waste
Plenty of federal funds are available after President Biden signed a 1 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill into law last November, and Saint Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is trying to cash in through an expansive northside–southside MetroLink expansion.
The proposed route received some tweaks earlier this month, and now is set to run from Natural Bridge Road at Grand Boulevard in north city down Jefferson Avenue past the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) headquarters and the site of the new MLS stadium. This new plan has an estimated price tag of between $600 and $800 million and would be financed primarily through federal funds. However, like the ill-advised KC Streetcar expansion, expanding MetroLink would be a waste.
The first and most obvious problem with the proposal is ridership. The project is touting the ability to connect impoverished areas of North Saint Louis with centers of commerce in places such as downtown and the Central West End. However, project leaders have yet to put out research supporting this claim. Considering that fewer and fewer people are commuting downtown for work, there are reasons to be skeptical of this assertion.
As a longtime Saint Louis sports fan, I understand that MetroLink can be a convenient way to get downtown and avoid the stress and costs of parking. However, building an additional stop and line to service the new MLS stadium is completely unnecessary, considering its proximity to Union Station–it is only 0.2 miles away, or a five-minute walk. Instead of changing lines to access the dedicated stadium stop, soccer fans taking the train downtown would be better off exiting at Union Station and making the short walk over.
As with the KC Streetcar expansion I wrote about in a recent blog post, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a questionable MetroLink expansion comes at the expense of bus systems. Saint Louis Metro has been forced to cut lines amid staffing shortages, an issue which is predicted to persist into next year. Metro Bus is the primary means of transportation for roughly 22,000 St. Louis commuters, compared to only 4,000 commuters who primarily use MetroLink.
If St. Louis wishes to use federal money to improve public transit, it should improve the bus system and invest in more efficient types of public transportation, like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Unfortunately, policymakers’ tendency to chase shiny objects will likely leave Saint Louis with a defunct trolley, an oversized light rail system, and thousands of unhappy bus riders.