St. Louis City Produces $235M Project List for Possible Sales Tax Revenue

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On August 5th, Missouri voters will decide the fate of the proposed $6B state sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Once presumed to be headed for the November ballot, Governor Nixon moved the vote to August. That gives about 10 weeks to consider what would be the largest tax increase in state history.

The change means East-West Gateway (the area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization) is now short on time to develop a strategic project list. The EWG preliminary list was released just last week. For better or worse, St. Louis area counties are on their own. The city is its own county, and Mayor Francis Slay current serves as Chair of the EWG Board of Directors.

Now the city has its list of possible projects (below). Based on 2013 sales tax allocation, the city would receive 16% of the estimated $1.5B funding for the St. Louis area, or $235M. This list obtained by nextSTL is not prioritized, but is said to equal that $235M mark. It’s unclear how costs for a project like the BRT line from Chesterfield to downtown St. Louis would be allocated.

Capture_5{the North City Trestle appears on both the initial EWG list, and the City’s project list}

Locally, and statewide, it anyone’s guess if there’s support for a sales tax increase to pay primarily for highways. Due to special taxing districts, sales tax in some parts of St. Louis City reaches 12%. In April of last year, St. Louis City and County passed a 3/16% sales tax increase to fund the Arch grounds and various parks projects. That tax is estimated to cost city taxpayers $162M and county taxpayers $634M over its 20-year life.

A sales tax is regressive as it is applied uniformly, as opposed to a progressive tax. This means the 25% of City of St. Louis residents who do not have access to a car pay the same tax as the 40 mile a day commuter, when buying the same goods.

Whether or not it passes, voters are being presented with this choice because of a failure in political leadership and fiscal responsibility. State lawmakers could choose to toll Interstate highways to pay for their maintenance. They could also vote to raise the gas tax, currently near the lowest in the nation. The last time it was increased, this year’s college freshmen were not yet born. The politically expedient decision is the deceptively seemingly benign “let the voters decide”.

Because the proposed sales tax can be used on transit, bicycle/pedestrian, and other projects, it has won some level of appeal in unlikely places. In Missouri, expenditure of gas tax revenue is currently limited to roads and highways. In a state that starves non-highway transportation projects, millions in funding, anything in funding, has appeal.

chouteau greenway{a sliver of Chouteau’s Greenway nearest the Arch grounds is included on the city’s list}

However, the current list of projects compiled by EWG is stunningly outdated, a page from 1950s Urban Renewal that posits more and better highways as the key to urban and metro area economic growth. In St. Louis (and elsewhere) we have more than half a century of compelling evidence to the contrary.

The region may be turning a corner in rhetoric, if not planning. St. Louis County’s strategic plan, titled “Imagining Tomorrow”, cites three areas of focus; “Invest in youth, Prepare for an aging population, Address the consequences and cycle of poverty.” The $1.63B for highways in the EWG project list addresses none of these.

The city’s list may be more transit and bicycle/pedestrian oriented, but with the lack of an established, articulated urban vision, it’s impossible to know how the list melds with the city’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, the OneSTL initiative, Metro’s regional plan, and other visions.

In the “high priority” category, the EWG list is 91% dedicated to highway projects. The largest transit project is the North City Bus Rapid Transit line at $47M, or 2.9% of St. Louis area projects. When MoDOT asked district residents what they wanted to see, they were told 60% wanted to simply maintain existing roads, while 40% would like to see expansion. For transit, the numbers were 59% for transit expansion, and 41% for maintenance. For listed high priority highway projects, 96% is allocated to “improvements” and other changes beyond maintaining existing infrastructure.

NorthSide/22nd St. vision{the 22nd Street interchange as envisioned by NorthSide Regeneration}

BRT Metro{BRT lines to Chesterfield (red) and North County (blue) are on the city’s list}

More than any other county, the City of St. Louis carries the burden of building infrastructure for others. This makes funding projects via sales tax even more troublesome for the already economically challenged city. It’s not yet clear if the city sees real opportunity in the sales tax to fund otherwise moribund projects, or if it is simply being prudent in planning for possibility of the ballot measure passing.

Due to its regressive nature, avoidance of applying costs to users, and volatility, a sales tax remains a terribly misguided way to fund highways, and some transportation projects. The current state of affairs is a manufactured crisis brought about by overbuilding and long underfunding infrastructure. Continuing to build unsustainable highways will soon lead to yet another funding “crisis”.

The city’s list appears more heavily tilted toward transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, though without project cost estimates, the proportion of funding allocated to each is unclear. We’re told that the list will be made public shortly, and it will be interesting to hear how the city chooses to frame its position on the issue. Asked by nextSTL to confirm the authenticity of the list below, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office declined to comment.

City of St. Louis transportation sales tax project list:

STREETCAR

  • St. Louis Streetcar—full phase I with streetscape improvements as outlined in 2013 feasibility study

BUS RAPID TRANSIT

  • Bus Rapid Transit—Build BRT route connecting to downtown via West Florissant/Natural Bridge
  • Bus Rapid Transit—Build BRT route on I-64, Chesterfield to Downtown

COMPLETE STREETS

  • Goodfellow—Natural Bridge to I-70 – Complete Streets
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive—Grand to Kingshighway – Complete Streets
  • Grand Center—Washington Avenue from Theresa to Sheldon Concert Hall – Complete Streets
  • 7th and 8th Streets—Improvements Pine to Spruce – Complete Streets
  • North Grand—Natural Bridge to I-70 – Complete Streets
  • Natural Bridge—Kingshighway to Grand – Complete Streets
  • Vandeventer—Forest Park Avenue to I-44 – Complete Streets

OTHER TRANSIT

  • MetroLink Station connections—Delmar/Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink Station intersection, bike and pedestrian connections from distressed neighborhoods
  • MetroLink Station—Laclede’s Landing MetroLink Station improvements
  • Transit Centers—Build three additional transit centers throughout St. Louis County and St. Louis City

BIKE/PEDESTRIAN

  • North Riverfront Loop—Trestle: North Riverfront Loop, including Trestle Build Out, Trestle to Downtown via 14th Street. Trestle connections in North Side Regeneration and North Riverfront Phase II
  • Midtown Loop—Connect portions of St. Vincent Greenway, Forest Park, BJC Campus, Cortex District, SLU, Grand Center, Old Hodiamont streetcar line (westernmost portion of Chouteau Greenway)
  • River des Peres Connector—Connects Shrewsbury MetroLink, Carondelet Park via Christy Greenway, Mississippi River/River des Peres confluence, and Jefferson Barracks
  • ADA—Sidewalk improvements along city arterials
  • Laclede’s Landing—Park improvements and pedestrian connections under MLK Bridge, 1st St., 2nd St., Morgan St., and Laclede’s Landing Boulevard, including traversable streets and ADA sidewalks
  • Chouteau Greenway—Cerre Street under EB I-64 traffic lanes and a cycle track on south side, bike/ped bridge through I-64/I-70/I-44 interchanges from Cerre to Arch grounds

ROADS AND HIGHWAYS

  • I-64—Construct new 22nd Street Interchange and adjacent street work
  • I-70 at Broadway—Extend exit ramp and add right turn lane
  • Branch Street—Branch Street improvements, I-70 exit to Mississippi River levee, including sidewalks and bike lanes
  • Route H—Reconstruct Hall Street (Route H), East Grand to Riverview Drive, address flooding issues
  • Grand Boulevard—Repave Grand Boulevard from Steins to Hall Street, connecting I-70 to I-64 to I-44 to I-55, improve emergency vehicle travel and access, plus sidewalk upgrade and ADA
  • Hampton—Repave Hampton/Germania from Eugene to Oakland, connecting I-64 to I-44 to I-55, improve emergency vehicle travel and access, plus sidewalk upgrade and ADA
  • Tucker Boulevard—Improvements including road diet and median enhancements from Washington to Chouteau

OTHER

  • Municipal River Terminal—North Dock, reinforce tie back systems

*The City of St. Louis released their official project list (below) Monday, June 2nd:

St. Louis City Transportation Priorities for Proposed Transportation Sales Tax “90 percent” funding – May 3… by nextSTL.com

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  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

    I still don’t see how Chouteau Lake/Greenway is a thing. What do we do with all the trains/tracks that already utilize this area? Bury them? Re-direct them? Tell them to get lost?

    Very befuddling.

    • Alex Ihnen

      At least for the rendering above, the tracks are still there. The pond is currently a parking lot. I think other renderings basically show the tracks remaining as they are, with surface storage and other spaces being used for the greenway. The renderings definitely gloss over the challenge this presents.

      • DanieljSTL

        I like their take on the area immediately east, too. Looks like some shiney new towers in the future? But really, if this is possible, it would look amazing on the otherwise neglected south side of downtown.

    • tpekren

      Not too confident either. However, to clarify Alex comments which are correct if you look at the respective ponds in the renderings as separate phases. I believe the pond closest to the Arch and Busch Stadium is currently a surface lot actually owned by the GRG (they are collecting revenues on it). The pond being the farthest away and in the lower left hand corner is the current downtown railyard, or as T-Leb eloquently put it – picture missing an entire rail yard. The silver of land between the two ponds is the through tracks that will remain..
      ..
      Personally, I think GRG should tear up and develop the surface lot for some killer playing fields, soccer or softball, etc. for an expanding downtown residential population as well as look at a connecting trail to the riverfront and the metro transit hub/Amtrak station. Something beneficial and useful can happen sooner then later. If anyone really truly wants to see a pond, hop the metrolink to Forest Park.
      As far as previous replies and post. Geoff noted that Koman is working on something that would rival BPV is scale. What is it? is it in West County, Clayton or something close to the proposed Chouteau’s greenway? Koman’s developed the last Cupples warehouse if not mistaken. Who knows they might have Nestle/Purina’s ear looking to expand its presence or Bunge looking for a new home closer to the river. Love to speculate on the teasers

      • brian

        Does the downtown area (I know technically the Chouteau’s Pond area isn’t downtown) really need more green space?

        • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

          But the Gateway Mall has brought so much vibrancy, economic development and activity! *eyeroll*

          If we got to a point where we could replace most of the Gateway Mall with high-rises THEN I’d be open to a Chouteau Greenway. But only in that nigh-impossible instance.

          Personally, I’d like to see the trainyard get cleaned up/condensed and used partially as a staging area for the NEW St. Louis regional heavy rail commuter system (with the hub, of course, at a reactivated Union Station)…

          • Alex Ihnen

            Presumably greenspace is a better north-south connector than vacant lots, rail yards and open storage, but buildings are much better than either.

          • brian

            The problem with green space is that it basically becomes impossible to ever reclaim for another use.

            I, also, question the shortsightedness, of getting rid of the rail yards.

          • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

            Same reason the removal of Memorial Drive is so frustrating. It’s being incorporated into the Archgrounds as greenspace. Good luck getting that strip back from NPS when the political will exists to build the boulevard!

          • Shadrach

            The rail yard is far less active than years ago. Union Pacific built a new intermodal yard and expanded their existing yard in DuPo about 10 years ago moving most of the operations over there. The yard downtown is a ghost of what it used to be and winding down. UP has agreed to the Chouteau Greenway plan, they want to keep their two double mainlines through downtown which you see in the renderings.

          • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

            “Presumably” is key. For decades, STL “leaders” and “planners” thought they could greenspaciate or pavilionize their problems away. The Wharf became the Arch, Mill Creek became the Gateway Mall.

            While one (the Arch) does draw a large amount of people, the greenspace itself is vastly underused. The other (outside of the quirkly, cool CityGarden — which has succeeded due to the increased downtown residential population, not the other way around) is a deadzone, made more so by the roughly 12-15 combined traffic lanes bordering it to the north and south.

            I should hope the City would have learned by now that creating green space doesn’t ensure its use. If it wants to do Chouteau Greenway, fine, but it better be accompanied by a shovel-ready plan for about 2000+ residential units immediately adjacent…

          • Joe Schmoe

            Greenspace is a compromise I’m willing to make right now too, but urban infill should be the long vision.

    • dempster holland

      Don’t worry–its like Ball park village and Metrolink expansion. Promise the
      voters anything and then wait long enough so that they forget what you
      told them.

  • pat

    I still don’t get who is making the final list and ultimately decides how the money is used. Is it MoDot? Is it EWG? Is it the City of St. Louis and the surrounding counties? So the City of STL gets $235 million total for the entire sales tax period. Doe our MoDot enginer manage those funds or is it some person in Jeff City?

  • T-Leb

    I think one of those pipe dream pictures is missing an entire railroad yard.

  • JCougar

    I never understood how it’s “conservative” to keep gas taxes low, and yet spend massive sums on road development. When you do tax, you should be taxing wasteful economic activity and investing in infrastructure that promotes efficient activity. Driving is extremely wasteful energy-wise. It also promotes an extremely wasteful use of land and natural resources other than fossil fuels. Moreover, it promotes an unhealthy lifestyle, which makes our country’s healthcare system wasteful. No matter how may “think” tanks you construct to dress up regressive tax strategies as “intellectual, libertarian smart-think,” the current status quo of moving away from income taxes or gas taxes to funding everything by a sales tax is nothing but a transfer of wealth from the poor (who spend a greater percentage of their income on transactions that generate sales tax) to wealthy, politically-connected road-builders. And this has the added bonus of appealing culturally to the hippie-punching crowd, who thinks that smart is stupid and that real men don’t think things through (or ride bikes, or walk).

    • mc

      It’s not conservative. It’s a product of extreme capitalism.

      • JCougar

        Well, right. That’s why I put “conservative” in quotes. This is exactly why libertarianism fails as a practical policy. The absence of government doesn’t mean that governing actually shrinks. Instead, accumulated wealth takes its place, and we get a government that promotes policies that are terrible for almost everyone, and yet enrich an already-wealthy private interest. St. Louis couldn’t be a better example of this. Aside from Detroit, there’s probably not another city in this country that has gone into such ruin and decay due to capital flight encouraged and enabled by mega-highways. And yet we have people like Rex Sinquefield actively making things worse and worse–trying to eradicate income taxes and instead put the burden disproportionately on the poorest people. And then we have the state legislature funneling all that money into projects that only help people who can afford to have a car. It’s a reverse-Robin Hood government.

      • http://donspoliticalblog.blogspot.com Don

        True that, but it’s also what passes for ‘conservative’ today with every conservative think tank in the country gob-struck over elimination of income tax replaced by sales tax.

        And that is exactly what this is. The legislature just over-road a veto to pass an income tax cut on MO’s wealthiest people and now that same legislature is moving highway funding to a sales tax.

        It’s regressive and it’s horrible policy. I’ll be voting “no”.

  • Presbyterian

    The city’s list actually looks better than I expected. I’m not optimistic about the county’s list, though.

  • jhoff1257

    I do like the City’s list, if that means that all gets built relatively quickly. I say swap the Chesterfield BRT for a CORTEX MetroLink station.

    • Joe Schmoe

      Yes, that was also a concern I had. I also heard MoDOT would not be “bonding”, which I think is rather foolish. I wonder if there would be any safeguards that make sure all projects get built within the 10 year time frame.

      • tpekren

        Bonding is a trade off, yes you get the funding up front to build out the project list. However, bonding like any loan means that part of the pot will have to go to interest payments on the revenues collected. So I don’t think it is foolish to sometimes do pay as you go. A big part of why this is on the ballot in the first place is because MoDOT bonded a huge list a few years back and now has a significant yearly payment with interest.

        • Alex Ihnen

          The thought with bonding now is that money has almost never been cheaper. If we wait and rates are 5, 6, 7%, then it really doesn’t make sense.

        • OscarT

          MoDOT debt to revenue is only 12.5%, if there were a person that would be amazing ratio

          $250,000,000 million a year in debt payments on $2,000,000,000 in revenue

          • tpekren

            I can certainly understand your argument but you also pointed out the state has $250 million a year it can’t use for transportation period, not for fixing pot holes, not for expanding transit. $250 million a year mortgage payment. On ten years, that is $2.5 billion or half of what this sales tax is suppose to generate. In other words, their is always a price to pay with bonding. That was is my point, nothing more nothing less.

          • OscarT

            Not really, you have to remember that its not like they are just throwing that money away…it actually got billions and billions $ worth of projects complete at prices that are much cheaper then if it didn’t bond and did work as the money came.

    • JZ71

      Let CORTEX pay for their own station. They’re willing to pay to build hundreds of parking spaces – let them spend some of it on transit, instead!

      • Adam

        So long as Chesterfield pays for its own BRT.

    • John R

      There is a really sweet TIGER grant application in for a new Cortex station, extension of the CWE platform and starter bike trail for the area…. total project cost is $12 million, which appears to be what the state budget line item would have funded if passed. Wexford says it will commit to more TOD if the station is built; otherwise it will have to build more parking in the area. I really hope they secure the TIGER grant.

  • Larry Guinn

    A sales tax to fund transportation, and primarily highway transportation with only 16% revenue returning to the STL area? In how many ways are we being screwed with this arrangement? It should be a fraction of a penny sales tax increase with a higher tax on fuel, with over 40% revenue returning to STL. Jefferson City uses STL as a source of revenue with little support. They controlled our police department from the Civil War until last summer. Almost 150 years. I think our crime, and their dedication, speaks for itself. I intend to vote no.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dance2022 Gary Kreie

      Exactly how much money could we generate from a 3/4 cent sales tax in St. Louis City and County? If we do that instead and apply 100% of the funds to the area, would that be more money for the local priorities?

      • Imran

        Agree, though I am trying not to forget that this a regressive tax proposal no matter what fabulous local projects it ends up funding. Besides, MODOT desperately needs a reality check. I hope this is voted down.

        • Jason

          What do poor people spend most of their money on? (Almost all actually) housing, food and med which this 3/4 cent sales tax excludes.

      • Martin

        Looked around the dept of rev website and it looks like the st.louis area (city, stl county, st.charles, Franklin and Jefferson counties) generate about 36.5% of sales tax and are getting back 34.6% from this 3/4 cent

        • http://www.facebook.com/dance2022 Gary Kreie

          This is better for the St. Louis region than I expected. I might change my mind and vote for it, in spite of it it being a regressive tax. Otherwise, I’m not sure what happens to MODOT.

    • Alex Ihnen

      FYI: the percent allocated to each of the following is said to be: STL City 16%, STL County 56%, and St. Charles County 17%.

      • Guest

        Do we know what STL County wants to spend their money on? Anything related to transit?

    • matimal

      Exactly. St. Louis needs to take advantage of Missouri’s anti-spending instincts and support itself in a way that the rest of the state won’t. Alternatively, St. Louis’ needs to learn how to game the state funding system to favor itself without it being clear that that is what it is doing.

  • Steve Kluth

    It’s good that the city is planning in case this passes, even if the tax is regressive and a bad idea. They’ve too often been caught napping, most recently with the Cortex light rail miss. Not planning because you don’t like something is still a mistake.

  • onecity

    How about modernizing the city’s traffic light system. It’s all so obviously timer-based. Can’t count the number of times I’ve sat at red lights for long stops when there is absolutely no cross traffic at all.

  • STLEnginerd

    So a new twist on an old gripe about an item on this list. STL Streetcar is on the list. Southside metrolink is not. Now many have argued the merits of both but the general consensus seemed to me that yes both add value, but the STL Streetcar was more viable because it would be funded with a special taxing district. ie property and or sales tax in the area immediately benifited by the streetcar.
    Hard to argue that the Olive route was more viable from that perspective as there is simply more retail and commercial propoerty along the route.
    Now they want to fund the thing with a general sales tax increase… WTF. Why not a north south streetcar instead. I’t proabbly look a whole lot like the north south metrolink proposal from years back. People who support funding the streetcar this way, when the central corridor is already served by metro link are doing it on the backs of the residents of St. Louis (north and south) to support an urban elite in the central corridor. A north south line is THE ONLY EQUITABLE CHOICE, if it comes from a general sales tax fund IMHO. The rest of the city supported a centrlal corridor line. It feels to me like its their turn.

    • John R

      I agree the lack of South Side transit is an unfortunate flaw in our current planning. However, the city’s proposed $35 million allocation for “First Phase” Streetcar is a modest down payment on the overall project, which I believe is estimated to be around $250 million or so… so they have to be expecting a lot of other sources (feds/property owners, etc.) to ensure it gets done. Also, to be fair, the Saint Louis Streetcar plan does have a decent North Side component. (Going up 14th Street and Florrisant to Saint Louis Ave.) So I think it is a solid project that should be included in the list. Hopefully a “Second Phase” could go from downtown to Chouteau to Jefferson for a South Side connection reaching at least to Cherokee, with additional N/S lengthening in the future as funding allows.

  • cameron strickland

    I like the city list and want to vote yes for the city but I really want to yell at the St. Louis County admin and MODOT for being idiots. Jeff City is no longer relevant to me. I feel like my vote would be a no. How can St. Louis get more Venture Capitalists and private funders so that we don’t need Jeff City because all they do is screw us over when we try to move forward?

    • John R

      I’m with you on the disappointment in the county, If we can improve the standing of transit (and bike/ped) in the County and build a coalition with the Kansas City area — which increasingly is moving forward with progressive planning policies — we might begin to make some gains in Jefferson City. Regardless, we also need to look at ways to self-fund City transit projects.

  • tbatts666

    Finally an article suggesting to put tolls on the freeways instead of funding them through taxes!! That is actually my beef with 7!

    So in STL city it will maybe provide some funding to public transit and bike improvements. But there is no guarantee that most of the funding won’t be sucked into big freeway projects.

    We need a better local solution. Something that helps people get around in the city, instead of freeways that drain the city of their residents.

    I think I am voting no on 7.