Cortex MetroLink Station Misses Out on $11,000,000 State Appropriation

*update 05/19/14

It turns out that there has not been an allocation of funds for the planned Cortex MetroLink Station. HB 2021 passed by the Missouri Legislature included $11M in funding for the station. SB 723 was the bill that included funding for the HB 2021 project list. SB 723 was passed by the Missouri House and Senate as well, but we’re told reverted to a prior list of projects which did not include funding for a new MetroLink station at Cortex
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Cortex MetroLink planning

Lost in the craziness of the last week of the Missouri General Assembly was a bill that appears to provide St. Louis with a major transit investment.  HB2021 allocated $11,000,000 “For planning, design, and construction of a passenger rail station in proximity to a business incubator in St. Louis.”

A new MetroLink station at the heart of the Cortex district has been on the drawing boards for years, recognized by many as a necessary component to future development. While the bill language isn’t specific, it now appears that full funding may be in place to make it a reality.

At the end of March, light rail transit advocacy group Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) convened a public forum, presenting plans for a station. In June of last year, the Urban Land Institute St. Louis concluded that the best place for a new MetroLink station would be Cortex. The future MetroLink station has been used a selling point for the district since shortly after it was formed nearly a decade ago.

Cortex MetroLink planning

Since following HB2021 through the legislative process, nextSTL has reached out to the Metro transit agency, CMT, and representatives of Washington University. None professed to know much about the $11,000,000 allocation. One noted, “I’ve heard it’s in there, but haven’t heard the amount.”

The bill passed the Senate Y28/N4 and the House Y130/N15 on May 8. This all seems rather strange. The three groups responsible not only for transit planning (including WUSTL in the city’s central corridor), but also recent studies regarding a new MetroLink station at Cortex, the city’s 200-acre innovation district, claim to know nothing.

The State of Missouri simply doesn’t throw money at transit – the last general funding allocation was $100,000. The current MetroLink system features 37 stations. The last addition came with the opening of the Blue Line in 2006. Over the past couple years, several dozen meetings, studies, and open houses have addressed the possibility of a Cortex MetroLink station.

The vast majority of the Appropriation Bill concerned academic buildings and funds from the Board of Public Buildings Bond Proceeds Fund. The presumed Cortex MetroLink Station was designated money from this fund. The bill’s primary sponsor was Representative Rick Stream, a Republican representing the state’s 90th District, an area centered on the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, MO.

From the recent CMT study, the capital cost for the project is estimated to total $9.4 Million, including $6.2 million for the station and track alignment, $600,000 for bicycle access and station, and $2.6 million in other station amenities. New operating costs are estimated to be $835,000 annually. An appropriation for $11,000,000 doesn’t often just find itself in a bill.

HB2021 has been described as a six year effort, and Representative Chris Kelly (D – Columbia) stated HB2021 was the “single largest single economic development bill passed by the state in 33 years. The bill appropriates a total of $221,000,000 largely to various university building projects across the state.

CORTEX Commons{a past rendering of The Commons – a MetroLink station is not shown}

While the station may seem a natural addition along a developing corridor with nearly two miles between existing stations, projected ridership appears very conservative. Estimates by CMT show 1,100 to 1,600 daily boarding by 2035. Clearly many assumptions comprise such an estimate, yet the 20-year potential for an added station should be much higher. The Central West End station to the west currently sees nearly 6,000 boardings a day.

It is estimated that Cortex and adjacent areas will add 1,000 residents in just the next year. Existing planned development would had more than 3,000 jobs within one-half mile of the proposed station, and it’s estimated that 12,000 new jobs could be added by 2035.

From HB2021:

Section 21.120. To the Department of Transportation For planning, design, and construction of a passenger rail station in proximity to a business incubator in St. Louis From Board of Public Buildings Bond Proceeds Fund . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$11,000,000