Citizens for Modern Transit’s “Talking Transit” event, held today via Zoom, served as a forum to discuss route options for the planned North STL County Community Connector, which will be a major component of the Northside-Southside MetroLink expansion project. The more than 50 members, stakeholders, transit riders and others in attendance got an overview of the planned project and had the opportunity to ask questions.
The discussion featured panelists Kristen Lueken, Project Manager for AECOM, the consulting firm studying the various route and transit stop alternatives for this project; Sal Martinez, CEO of Employment Connection of St. Louis; Marcie Meystrik, Director of Transportation Planning at East-West Gateway Council of Governments and Taulby Roach, President & CEO of Bi-State Development. The forum was moderated by Kimberly Cella, Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit.
Plans for the overall MetroLink expansion project include a new line in the City of St. Louis, known as the Jefferson Avenue Alignment, that will run 5.6 miles along Jefferson Ave., from Chippewa St. to Grand Blvd. and west along Natural Bridge Rd. and will feature 14 new MetroLink stations. The St. Louis County part of the MetroLink expansion, known as the North STL County Community Connector, will travel 5 to 8 miles from Natural Bridge into North St. Louis County. Four different route options, featuring seven to 10 MetroLink stations are currently being studied. The total project will span 14 to 17 miles, and offer seating, ticketing and weather protection at all stations. Seamless access to the existing MetroLink system is a major planning component, with a transfer station to be located near Jefferson Ave and Ewing Avenue.
“This is a regional project that will serve as a catalyst for the future of St. Louis City and County,” commented Roach during the ‘Talking Transit’ discussion. “In order for the light rail lines to be successful, we need to have rooftops near them – whether those be houses or businesses with job opportunities. This needs to be the driver of development and deliver on unfulfilled promises to impacted neighborhoods of color.”
The goal of the planned project is to provide more choices to those with limited transportation options. The four route options for the North STL County Community Connector include Natural Bridge Ave – Florissant Rd, Goodfellow Blvd to West Florissant Ave, Natural Bridge Ave – Jennings Station Rd – Halls Ferry Rd and Natural Bridge Ave – Lucus and Hunt Rd – Halls Ferry Rd. Research indicates that within a half-mile of these proposed routes, one-fourth of households do not own a vehicle and 11% of workers already rely on transit as their primary means of transportation to work, which is over five times the county average. The proposed light rail would operate twice as often with faster and more reliable travel times compared to typical bus service.
Lueken reinforced that they aren’t looking at the four route options in silos “One thing our team is doing right now is looking at the four alignment options, and the areas where we are soliciting a lot of feedback, to determine if there are ways to mix and match the best of the alternatives together,” she said.
Rail technology, requirements and engineering challenges – along with capital investment, funding, the timeline and potential impacts – were all also discussed during the “Talking Transit” event.
“It is important to provide access to quality affordable public transportation, and this project is going to be a gamechanger,” said Martinez. “This is something the community has asked and pleaded for, for many years. We need to commit to meeting people where they are and building the needed, broad base support. People in these communities feel like they’ve been forgotten about and that opportunities for development have passed them over. We need to show the community that this is serious and that it is about improving their lives, their children’s lives, their neighbors’ lives, etc.”
Public outreach and engagement have been an important element of the planning process for the MetroLink expansion project. To-date, these plans have been presented to over 35 stakeholder groups, briefed elected officials and hosted 40 street team pop-up events in St. Louis City and County. Over 28,000 residents have been reached through paid social media with 520 engagements and a total of 2,390 completed surveys received. Those interested in learning more about the project or weighing in on the options, can visit www.GrowingMetroLink.com.
Those interested in viewing today’s panel discussion in its entirety can do so by clicking here or viewing the event recording below.
CMT hosts quarterly “Talking Transit” events to keep members, elected officials, stakeholders, transit riders and others in the loop on issues and efforts influencing the local transit system. These educational gatherings feature guest speakers and panel discussions addressing a wide range of topics, including transit-oriented development, safety and security, best practices, service changes and more.