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Loop Trolley leaders now have until March 1 to approve restart plan

The Loop Trolley headquarters on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in St. Louis. The East-West Gateway Council of Governments rejected approval of $1.26 million in federal highway funds to help cover the street car’s operational costs on Wednesday, putting the future of the trolley in question.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Federal authorities want local leaders to approve a plan to get the system running again starting this summer.

Federal authorities have extended the deadline for local leaders to come up with a plan to restart Loop Trolley service.

Local officials now have until March 1 to approve a plan to get the trolley running again. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announced the extension Tuesday at a meeting of the trolley’s transportation development tax district.

“It’s been no secret that this is something that I didn’t support from the beginning. However, it landed in my lap as mayor and I’m committed to fixing it because St. Louis City and St. Louis County do not have $22 million to give back to the federal government,” Jones said.

Leaders were originally given a Feb. 1 deadline to approve a plan to restart service by this summer. In a December letter to Jones and other officials, the Federal Transportation Authority said if a plan was not approved in time, the trolley’s backers could have to pay back millions of dollars in federal funding.

The trolley hasn’t been in regular service since December 2019, when it took a temporary pause that was extended indefinitely because of the pandemic. The trolley was supposed to run seven days a week with five vehicles, but even when it was in service, it was only running four days a week with two vehicles.

The trolley project received more than $37 million total in federal funding to create the 2.2-mile route.

Local leaders have warned that if federal money has to be repaid, it could make it harder for the St. Louis region to receive federal grants for future projects.

“If this money is clawed back, that will weigh against us with future requests for federal transportation money,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said in December.

Jones said Tuesday that the issue could even affect funding from the recently passed federal infrastructure improvement plan.

“The failure to fix the Loop Trolley problem will leave us on the hook for tens of millions of dollars, imperiling our entire region's ability to receive federal grants in the future, including from the bipartisan infrastructure law,” Jones said.

Recent plans to restart the project have failed. In October, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments rejected a plan to use federal money to revive the trolley and potentially have Bi-State Development, which operates the Metro Transit system, manage the trolley. Another plan to bring the trolley back failed in early 2020.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Clarification: The Loop Trolley has not been in regular service since December 2019, though it did run for a few weekends in July 2020. A previous St. Louis Public Radio report mischaracterized when the trolley stopped running.

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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