ST. LOUIS (AP) — If a streetcar line ceases operating in the St. Louis area, the federal government may want to be paid back some of the millions of dollars it spent to support the project.
That’s the assessment of James Wild, executive director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the organization that oversees the use of federal transportation money in the region.
“It’s likely some of the funds would have to be repaid, we just have to determine how much that would be,” Wild said. “The Federal Transit Administration is trying to be very deliberate and careful in what their determination is going to be, because, to the best of their knowledge, this is not something that has occurred in their region and we’re not sure if there is a precedent for this.”
Wild said the money would have to come from the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, which is funded by a 1% tax on businesses along the trolley line.
The debate over St. Louis’s trolley no doubt seems familiar in some ways to people living in the Milwaukee area. Milwaukee began operating its own streetcar line nearly a year ago. The project and the St. Louis’s trolley have been subject to similar criticisms, although Milwaukee officials say rider numbers on the local streetcar have so far exceeded expectations.
In St. Louis, the U.S. government paid for about two-thirds of the $51.5 million Loop Trolley, a 2.2-mile system running from University City’s Delmar Loop to the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Wednesday. The trolley began operating in November after years of delays. Rider numbers have been low.
John Meyer, president of the Trolley board, said on Saturday that the line needs $200,000 by next month to keep operating and another $500,000 to operate into 2020.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s chief of staff, Steve Conway, said the city “has not ruled out” financial aid for the trolley. He didn’t elaborate on what revenue sources are being considered.
But St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said the trolley project was supposed to pay for itself.
“St. Louis has numerous demands on its budget including addressing crime issues, critical infrastructure repairs and continued investment in our recreation centers to keep our youth involved in positive activities,” Reed said in a statement. “The project must be able to stand on its own economically. I recommend they seek private funding before asking the city to divert funding for more critical issues than a trolley.”
The trolley line also has asked St. Louis County for money.
“I hate to see an investment of this magnitude fail, particularly when it could threaten future funding opportunities, but I cannot support handing over any more county funds without similar investments from other stakeholders,” County Executive Sam Page told the County Council Tuesday. “And at this point, no one else has stepped forward.”