Loop Trolley construction inches towards completion
Students, St. Louis residents and tourists alike can expect a new way to get around the Delmar Loop as the controversial Delmar Loop Streetcar Trolley is on track to begin service this coming April after over a year of construction.
The $51 million-plus, 2.2-mile streetcar system has been heavily debated since it was first proposed in 1997 by Loop developer and entrepreneur Joe Edwards. Construction will conclude over the next two months, followed by a testing and implementation period that will begin this winter.
The Trolley will run over 10 stops from the University City Library to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, merging from Delmar Boulevard onto DeBaliviere Avenue to reach the museum. Proponents of the Trolley claim it will form a better connection between key tourist attractions that can fuel economic growth, while opponents have largely complained of gentrification and construction-related traffic hurting businesses.
As construction nears its end, the Trolley’s legacy proves complicated. Since construction began in April 2015, key intersections along the route have closed or been plagued by traffic, which has impacted businesses and inconvenienced the local community.
Paul Scott, the Trolley project manager, believes that, despite significant complaints, the Trolley will eventually be considered an integral part of the Delmar neighborhood.
“I was away [from St. Louis] for nine years and I’ve seen this area grow very vibrant compared to how it was, so we’re definitely on the right path. I worked on similar transport construction in Phoenix and Kansas City. Some people are not too fond of these types of projects, but once we’re up and running and bringing valuable progress to a neighborhood, people will start to view the Trolley as their own,” Scott said.
Some Trolley challengers have complained of the commercialization of Delmar Boulevard, one of St. Louis’s iconic streets and a historically significant dividing line between wealthy white neighborhoods and poorer black communities.
To Edwards, however, the Loop serves as an exception to the Delmar divide, rather than a contributor.
“The Delmar divide is very real, but it’s most relevant east of the Loop. The Loop is the unique result of a lot of open-minded, tolerant people deciding to make diversity a strength and build around interactions of all economic strata, races and ages,” Edwards said. “This all happened, even in a really dark moment in our country’s history when real estate agents supported white flight with fears of rapidly diversifying and changing neighborhoods.”
Other popular objections to the Trolley have come from retail stores lamenting business lost to construction decreasing foot and car traffic. Edwards acknowledges the difficulties of the process but believes the impact was minimal.
“Some businesses for a couple of weeks did suffer a little bit because of construction, but the ones that have left the Loop vocally definitely didn’t do so because of the Trolley. Some closed other locations downtown and around St. Louis at the same time and smartly used media attention to advertise going-out-of-business sales.”
But the jury is still out on the Trolley. Many, like senior Sam Funk, who lived in the Lofts while construction traffic was at its worst last fall, isn’t yet convinced the Trolley will benefit the neighborhood.
“It takes five minutes just to drive from City Hall to Skinker. I want to be optimistic and ambitious about it, that it will do well for Delmar and spread development east past the Pageant, but it could be a logistical nightmare,” Funk said.
Overall, the Trolley stands to benefit the neighborhood greatly, according to Edwards, who cites the creation of a new housing development and his investment in the Delmar Hall concert venue, which will open next month.
“Good, clean electric transit is the future of our country and a huge opportunity to promote economic development. I really believe this is a prototype for how to connect St. Louis neighborhoods to each other. We’ll connect one of the 10 great streets in America with Forest Park, the nation’s top free tourism attraction—that’s meaningful for Delmar and for St. Louis on the whole,” Edwards said.