Tuesday, February 16, 2010

St. Louis Metro Transit Board advances long-range plan

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Helping more people get to work and stimulating job growth and economic development are the goals of a 30-year long-range plan unanimously approved Feb. 12 by the St. Louis Metro Transit Board of Commissioners. Called "Moving Transit Forward," the plan for the future of transit in the region presents the results of nearly a year of in-depth study by Metro officials and staff from the East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGCG), the region's planning agency.

The groups worked together to get widespread community input and then marry the transit preferences from the citizens across the region with residential and employment patterns to design the most effective public-transit options.

The long-range transit plan now goes to the EWGCG Board for its consideration on February 24. If adopted, the plan will be used as a blueprint to help move the St. Louis region forward by improving transit access to jobs, helping the region attract more businesses and tourism dollars and positioning the 
St. Louis region to receive more federal funding to improve transit service and transit infrastructure.

"This is a comprehensive plan that combines the science of transit planning with community preferences, the demographics of where people live and work, and a study of how the region is evolving," said Robert J. Baer, President and CEO of Metro. "Moving forward to implement many of the elements in this plan will make the St. Louis region a better place for people to live and work."

Baer noted that the plan represents a comprehensive and cooperative effort by Metro and EWGCG to develop a single document that presents a strategic and realistic plan for the future of public transit across the region. The options outlined in the long-range plan will improve customers' transit experience and expand services to more communities. Key elements include restoring services that were cut last year; expanding bus and light rail; and adding passenger amenities, such as transit centers and new technologies that will make transit easier for the public to use.

"In working with the community, we heard loud and clear that citizens wanted a financially responsible plan that addresses the region's transit needs and includes a variety of service options," said Ray Friem, Metro's chief operating officer of transit services. "This plan does that."

To satisfy the community's request for a financially responsible plan, Metro officials have divided it into three phases. The projects that could be pursued in each phase are:

Short-Range (1-5 years)
• Restoring services cut last year to increase coverage and frequency back to levels before the reductions
• Planning and design for the next MetroLink extension that would be determined by EWGCG
• Two Bus Rapid Transit routes. BRT offers higher speed, high capacity service (also to be determined by EWGCG)
• Improved passenger amenities and technology

Medium-Range (5-10 years)
• Construction and operation of one light-rail expansion route
• Additional BRT routes
• Additional transit centers

Long-Range (10-30 years)
• Planning, construction and operation of a second light-rail alignment
• Begin planning and engineering for a third light-rail extension.

At the Board meeting Feb.12, Metro officials said the projects in the plan have a strong chance of attracting federal funding as long as the region provides the required local match. They emphasized that any infrastructure expansion would require federal funding, as well as an increase in state and local funding to provide the local-matching funds. Metro officials also said no expansion would be possible without sufficient funding from local, state, and federal sources for both capital and operating purposes.

The efforts described in the "Moving Transit Forward" plan not only would benefit riders, but also people who never use public transit because it:
• Reduces traffic congestion and pollution
• Helps lower the cost of living by reducing or eliminating car payments, insurance and fuel costs
• Helps grow the economy and stimulate business development. To date, the region has seen $2 billion in development around MetroLink stations. 
• Helps attract conventions and tourists by providing a public transit system, one of the first requirements by out-of-town visitors, and every $1 spent on transit returns $4 in investment to the St. Louis region.

Metro cannot proceed on any of the projects outlined in its long-range plan until EWGCG officials approve it. A timeline for reviewing the projects will be determined by the EWGCG.

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