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Metro in line for $3.8 million in grants for longer buses, I-55 transit study

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 17, 2011 - WASHINGTON - Federal transit officials gave initial approval Monday to $3.8 million in grants to Metro Transit in St. Louis to buy new buses, bolster transit infrastructure, and study ways to improve public transport along the Interstate 55 corridor.

Dianne Williams, a spokeswoman for Metro, told the Beacon that -- if the grants get final approval -- $2 million of that sum would be used to buy several new 60-foot-long "articulated" buses (which carry more passengers and allow more flexibility in turning) for use mainly along the Grand Avenue corridor in St. Louis. Eventually, Metro would like to purchase 13 such articulated buses.

Another $200,000 would be allocated for an "Interstate 55 Corridor study," which Williams said would examine the potential impact of various options to improve public transit in the I-55 corridor from downtown to south St. Louis County. Those options include enhanced bus service or expansion of light rail.

"This is only a first step in studying the I-55 corridor alternatives," said Williams. She said the study would examine environmental impact, the affect on existing transit, and development potential. Metro also has applied for other grants to examine the options to improve public transit along the other major highway corridors.

The tentative federal grants announced Monday also include $970,800 for "bus-related equipment" and about $678,000 to upgrade Metro's "transit asset management" system that help track the condition, expected life span and other aspects of the system's bridges, buses, buildings and equipment.

The Federal Transit Administration's announcement Monday of its support for the Metro's discretionary grants is the key step in a process that will require approval by local government boards to finalize the discretionary grant awards.

The local grants are part of $11.8 million allocated to various public transportation programs in urban, suburban and rural areas of Missouri. Nationwide, the FTA grants total was $928 million, including about $53 million for Illinois.

"Investing in America's transit systems, rails, roads, ports, and airports will generate tens of thousands of construction-related jobs and put more money in the pockets of working Americans," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Nationwide, the federal transport grants to more than 300 projects aim to put people to work renovating and building much needed transit facilities, manufacturing new clean-fuel buses, and helping communities plan responsibly for their future transit needs. They are distributed under three FTA programs: the fiscal year 2011 Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair programs.

LaHood said these grants were an important step, "but we must do more. Congress needs to pass the American Jobs Act so we can continue to invest in critically needed projects like these, to repair and rebuild our nation's transportation system."

FTA's administrator, Peter Rogoff, said the grant selection process was competitive, with initial approval given to about 300 of the 839 project applications. Most of the funds will go toward replacing or refurbishing aging buses, building or improving bus terminals, garages and other transit facilities, installing bus-related equipment, and conducting studies to help communities select the best transit options.

Rogoff said the funds "will make sure that bus service in our communities remains reliable and desirable while putting thousands of Americans to work at the same time."

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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