Define a clear strategy for future transit projects

30thannlogoCMT Executive Director Kim Cella’s Op-Ed as it appeared in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on May 26:

East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the local planning organization for the St. Louis region, is currently soliciting public comments on its newest long-range regional transportation plan, known as Connected2045. The plan outlines $4 billion worth of projects that are in addition to the $27 billion required over the next 29 years for maintenance.

While the plan highlights a number of highway projects on tap for our region, transit capital projects — like the expansion of MetroLink, the development of bus rapid transit and the St. Louis streetcar system — are listed as “illustrative projects” that can only happen if additional funding becomes available. With Citizens for Modern Transit serving as the region’s transit advocacy organization, we are very concerned that Connected2045 doesn’t adequately address the need to move transit forward in the region.

As the East-West Gateway Board of Directors prepares to vote on Connected2045, the time is now for local elected officials to set the vision for transit in the St. Louis area. Our local leaders must work together to define a clear strategy for future transit projects, and lead the charge toward creating a funding initiative designed to move those projects forward.

While there is a significant level of uncertainty with regard to overall transportation funding, we can no longer refrain from making transit projects a priority in our region’s transportation plans. The development of Connected2045 represents the perfect time for area leaders to determine one or two priority transit projects that our region, stakeholders, employers and others can champion and build support around.

A viable transit system represents a key ingredient in moving the region forward. As noted in the Connected2045 plan, access of goods to markets and of people to employment is critical to improving the regional economy and the well-being of residents. In short, our region’s future economic growth hinges on quality of access to transportation, making investments in transit essential.

According to current statistics, every $1 invested in public transportation yields approximately $4 in economic returns. In addition, every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased business sales; every $10 million in operating investment yields $32 million in increased business sales; and from 2006-2011, residential property values performed 42 percent better on average in locations near public transportation with high-frequency service.

These facts clearly demonstrate the true value of transit, but without a regional vision for public transportation growth, the future of transit in the St. Louis area remains unclear. If Connected2045 is truly a plan for the future, then it must address our region’s public transportation needs. The community has asked for transit, and now, we’re appealing to our local leaders to answer the call.

Kim Cella is executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit.