Loop Trolley project expected to move forward with University support
The project, which has received $24.99 million in federal grants as well as a $100,000 contribution from Washington University, had been experiencing delays due to route changes and consultants dropping out, pushing back its initial plan to begin construction in 2012. This prompted the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to issue an ultimatum last spring: if final plans for the trolley were not submitted by mid-October, the project’s federal funding would be revoked.
In spite of the initial setbacks, Joe Edwards, chair of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, said the project has made significant progress since the deadline was set.
“There were several consultants that almost fulfilled their timelines, their deadlines…but not quite, and that was difficult because it held up certain other parts. They all kind of intertwine, whether it’s design or utility location or neighborhood buy-in,” Edwards said. “They all have to be coordinated well. So that slowed things up a little bit, but now we’re in a place where I’m very optimistic.”
Since the FTA’s deadline was set, the project has already met its 30-day and 60-day deadlines, making Edwards hopeful that construction will begin in February 2014.
The University’s contribution to the project was made a few years ago and is being held in escrow until construction on the project begins. According to Rose Windmiller, assistant vice chancellor of government and community relations, the University thought the trolley would be an asset to both students and St. Louis residents.
“We think the trolley will be used certainly by students and faculty and staff that live along the [trolley’s] route,” Windmiller said. “We certainly felt like not only was it a benefit for the University community—it would also be a benefit for the larger St. Louis community.”
Edwards said the trolley would offer many benefits to the Loop neighborhood.
“It does enhance the quality of life; it helps stabilize neighborhoods, and it also helps draw economic investment to the neighborhoods that install fixed-track types of systems. Because the tracks can’t move, people feel confident investing,” Edwards said. “We have a great opportunity here in the Loop area to connect the Loop to the Forest Park area.”
Although the trolley will be on fixed tracks, it will be sharing traffic lanes with cars and other vehicles from the west end of its 2.2-mile route at University City Public Library to Des Peres Avenue, where the trolley will have a set of dedicated tracks.
However, neither Edwards nor Windmiller expressed concern about the trolley causing congestion along Delmar Boulevard on the Loop.
“There were a lot of traffic studies done concerning the trolley, particularly along Delmar,” Windmiller said. “The trolley, while it runs fairly regularly—it’s not going to impact adversely traffic along Delmar or along DeBaliviere.”