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Government, Politics & Issues

Loop Trolley remains dead in its tracks after a regional planning agency rejects funding plan

A truck drives by the Loop Trolley headquarters Wednesday morning in St. Louis. Later that day, 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, putting the future of the trolley in question.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A truck drives by the Loop Trolley headquarters on Wednesday in St. Louis. The East-West Gateway Council of Governments rejected approval of $1.26 million in federal highway funds to help cover the streetcar’s operational costs on Wednesday, putting the future of the trolley in question.

The future of the Loop Trolley in St. Louis remains uncertain after the failure of another plan to bring it back.

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments rejected a plan Wednesday to use $1.26 million in federal money to fund the 2.2-mile connection between the Delmar Loop and Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Another $540,000 from a sales tax along the route would also help cover the costs to restart the trolley.

The proposal included a call for Bi-State Development to manage the trolley.

That did not sit well with St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern.

"From all appearances, it's going to be a loser," he told other council members during a virtual meeting.

"I think we ought to leave tourism to the locals, and I think we need to concentrate on important things like security on MetroLink."

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones spoke in favor of allowing the federal grant to go through but made it clear that she's no fan of the Loop Trolley.

"This project should have never been built," she stressed.

Her support for the now-rejected plan is out of concern that federal funding for future transportation projects in the city could be jeopardized, especially the potential north-south MetroLink expansion.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday he wanted to be sure no more local money would be pumped into the Loop Trolley. He wanted it to become a self-sustaining service.

Bi-State Development President and Chief Executive Officer Taulby Roach agreed.

“Defaulting on the federal grant, even though Bi-State Development is not a part of it, is a bad idea for the St. Louis region,” he wrote in a statement.

Sunlight illuminates the Loop Trolley’s tracks 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
Sunlight illuminates the Loop Trolley’s tracks along Delmar Avenue on Wednesday morning.

The Federal Transit Administration has already provided more than $34 million in grants for the project. Overall, $52 million has been spent on the trolley line.

A previous plan to revive the trolley failed in early 2020.

At that time, members of a Bi-State Development committee shot down a proposal to temporarily take over the service. The committee questioned the business sense of the plan, which involved a four-year management contract with the goal of creating a self-sustaining Loop Trolley by 2024.

Bi-State Development operates Metro Transit in the region. Now that Bi-State has again rejected a plan to spend more money on the trolley, federal funds for future transportation projects in the region could be in jeopardy.

Federal Transit Administration Regional Director Mokhtee Ahmad told Bi-State Development last year that if the service died, it could sue for about $25 million, with the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District and East-West Gateway Metropolitan Planning Organization on the hook for the money.

He also hinted that going to court to recover the funds could harm the region's future federal grant applications.

The service began in 2018 after years of planning. It shut down after about a year of low ridership. There were also problems with the delivery and testing of the cars.

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