ST. LOUIS — Transit officials are unveiling a new, slightly altered route for a north-south expansion of MetroLink that would see it push past the new soccer stadium in Downtown West.
The updated plan — for a shorter line running from Jefferson Avenue at Chippewa Street north to Natural Bridge Avenue in the city of St. Louis — also represents a shift in strategy.
The previous mayor, Lyda Krewson, in 2020 had sought to examine alternatives to light rail, such as bus rapid transit or battery powered light rail, with the reasoning that the route may not have the density required to make it an attractive candidate for federal funding.
But the current mayor, Tishaura Jones, has said the route should utilize light rail — and Taulby Roach, CEO of transit agency Bi-State Development, on Thursday said he's advancing such a plan. He said he's likely to ask the region's planning organization, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, to endorse it as St. Louis' locally preferred alternative at a meeting in August or September.
After that, St. Louis can seek federal grants for the project, Roach said, a process that can take years. One option is to use the New Starts program.
A spokesman for Jones had no immediate comment Thursday.
A 2018 study had proposed a route that followed Jefferson in south city, but then veered east along Chouteau, toward downtown. After running through downtown, it would have headed west down Delmar Boulevard, then run north along either Florissant or Cass avenues, ending at Natural Bridge Avenue and Grand Boulevard.
The new route, Bi-State said, would capitalize on changes in the city since then. It's been developed with consultant AECOM.
Roach pointed out that the new route, within Jefferson's right of way, would run past the new Major League Soccer Stadium, where the expansion St. Louis City SC team is set to begin play in 2023, plus a new hotel development at Jefferson and Market Street. It still would run close to the new western headquarters for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where construction could finish in 2024.
The idea, Roach said, is to use projects like those to make the route more attractive for federal funding.
A transfer station would be built north of Chouteau Avenue, providing access to the existing east-west MetroLink routes known as blue and red, which are scheduled to get turnstiles in two years or so.
A Federal Transit Administration official was recently in town, examined the new route and "really liked the straightforward nature of the alignment," Roach said.
Roach also acknowledged a lack of density along part of the route, but said the line could be used "to make investments in areas with persistent poverty."
Roach didn't provide specifics for how much the project — or increases in operating subsidies caused by expansion — could cost, saying AECOM and local leaders are still studying the question, along with ridership projections.
But he did assert that the project is feasible.
"This looks like a viable option that I think will be competitive on a federal basis," Roach said.
Read the rest of the story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.