On Wednesday, Citizens for Modern Transit presented that St. Louis would once again enter into a study of north-south rapid transit. Alternatives to Light Rail Transit (LRT) will be explored over the next 15 months.
This is the third study in 14 years on a potential north-south route. Locals often call St. Louis a city of plans, and no example would be more poignant than this. While other cities have built out their rail networks over the past decade, St. Louis has delayed under fragmented and indecisive leadership.
In 2008, a study was published that identified a need for north-south rapid transit. In 2014, Scott Ogilvie (now a City of St. Louis Program Manager) wrote that it was time to build it. By 2018, a new study determined that LRT would run at-grade. Another four years have gone by and now in 2022, St. Louis is questioning whether LRT or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is the best option.
The idea that, after 14 years, all this city has to show for its studies is more studies is an abject failure. For folks in some of the most populated parts of our city, having rapid transit on their doorstep has been a specter of a dream for a large chunk of their lives. They have waited…and waited… and waited… to no avail. With our transit system gasping for breath, it is time that the region both implements innovative new solutions and invests in current operations to meet the needs of residents.
There is a potential silver lining with this announcement of a new study, though. The shift to studying an alternative like BRT could mean that while more time will be invested into the study, the actual buildout could be much faster than LRT. It took Indianapolis 15 months to build their Red Line BRT, which is 13 miles long.
So from today unttil completion, the region could potentially be looking at a ten year timeline. Denis Beganovic, in a tweet, laid out the timeline as such:
While this would still be a decade out, it would take an additional 75 months (or more) for construction of LRT. Additionally, the cost savings from BRT as opposed to LRT could allow St. Louis to build out up to three-times more route. This could allow for routes along Jefferson, Grand, and Kingshighway, for example.
Of course, this requires local government to act decisively. Our elected leaders will need to respond to the recommendations of the study with conviction and implement this dream deferred for the betterment of the people who live here.
If St. Louis City Mayor Tishaura Jones and others are ready to do this, this additional study is a dramatic step in the right direction. Still, I can’t fault anyone hesitant to believe that this will result in anything material by the end of the decade.
A study is only as good as its implementation. Let’s hope this is the last study on north-south rapid transit before construction begins.