St. Charles, St. Louis County to Incorporate Independent Transit Board, Build Light Rail System by 2014

In a surprise move that will further solidify the urban-suburban split in the St. Louis region, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann announced the formation of a transit authority independent from Metro, that will be tasked with building a comprehensive light rail network in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties.

The St. Louis-St. Charles Transit Authority (SLSCTA) hopes to capitalize on public sentiment reflected in a recent bi-partisan poll showing that nationwide 69 percent of suburban and rural residents agree that "increased transit investment would help their community." The result included 74 percent approval by suburbanites and 55 percent by rural residents. When asked if transit should receive more federal funding the numbers dropped, but 59 percent of suburban and 50 percent of rural residents answered in the affirmative.

Armed with polling that appears to show broad support for additional transit funding, Dooley and Ehlmann said the time was right to build transit. "Look, people are clearly stating that they want more transit, that they want better transit options." Dooley stated. "I think it's time we give them what they want." There has not been a similar survey conducted in St. Louis and St. Charles Counties specifically, however a transit tax proposal commonly referred to as "Prop M" was defeated by St. Louis County voters in November, 2008.

"I believe that our suburban residents want transit, they want light rail, but they don't want it connected to the Metro system that's basically in St. Louis City." Ehlmann said. "I mean, where does it go? Downtown, Forest Park, the airport? Sure, but you can't get to Bahama Breeze or West County Mall and there's only one Best Buy on the line."

Initial support is coming from some unlikely sources. Tom Shrout, Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT), an organization whose tagline is "Working to Expand Metrolink", thinks the formation of SLSCTA is a positive step. "Of course we're working to expand Metrolink, but we're also advocates for "modern" transit. "Modern" is a full 1/3 of our organization's name if you don't count the preposition. We can't just ignore that. This new system will be very modern, new cars, new stations and everything."

Not everyone involved with CMT seems to agrees. When reached via Twitter Seth Teel, a long-time CMT volunteer and leader in their social media effort, appeared to contradict Shrout, tweeting, " 'Modern' just pretty wd added 2 orgs name 2 make org sound progressve & raise $$$."

Given the ambitious construction timeline, the "modern" aspect of the new light rail system may initially take a backseat. SLSCTA is in early discussion with Metro to purchase existing MetroLink rolling stock to use on the new line. Ehlmann stated that he is optimistic that an agreement can be reached soon given Metro's budget woes.

One person who had offered spirited opposition to Metro and CMT is ready to champion the SLSCTA effort. John Burns, founder of "Citizens for Better Transit" says he'll throw his considerable political clout and flush coffers behind light rail in St. Louis and St. Charles counties. "You can't have "better" without having "worse" so by definition it takes two systems competing in order to have "better transit." That's what I stand for and that's what SLSCTA will give us."

While specific routes have not been finalized it is expected that the network will be centered on Missouri State Highway 141 with transfer stations at I-44, Manchester Road, I-64 and in the vicinity of the the Creve Coeur Airport. So what do you think? Leave your comment below and sound off on whether an independent transit agency in suburban St. Louis is a good idea.

(click map to see more detail)