St. Louis business leaders looking to boost tourism and development spent years bringing the Loop Trolley to fruition, a $52 million streetcar project that runs for 2.2 miles between a historic park and an entertainment-and-business district on the edge of the city.
But it has been a bumpy ride, and now it may have reached a dead end.
The trolley, after just a year of offering limited service, is out of money. The nonprofit that operates the trolley is seeking $700,000 in local funds to continue, or else the service is set to close this month.
In El Paso, the non-profit that runs these kinds of services are the local taxpayers. Unfortunately, they are excluded from the decision-making process. They only get called upon when the bills come due.
Not everyone has jumped on board. Some officials have tweeted under #boondoggle to mock the usefulness of the streetcar, which has attracted much lower ridership than envisioned.
“Realistically, it’s a tourist attraction and not that good of one at any rate,” said Tim Fitch, a St. Louis County commissioner, who opposes spending more than the $3 million the county has already kicked in for the project.
The U.S. Transportation Department has awarded more than $1 billion to 18 streetcar projects across the country since 2009, a spokesman for the department said.
The St. Louis project received a $25 million federal grant in 2010, part of a first wave of federal grants awarded in the wake of the financial crisis.
“They were trying to push dollars out in the street to stimulate the economy,” said Jeffrey Boothe, executive director of the Community Streetcar Coalition, which advocates for streetcars. He said some of the projects approved at the time hadn’t done enough analysis or were being proposed by entities that had never operated a transit system before.
The federal government now requires more rigor in its grant applications, he said. “We can chalk it up to lessons learned,” Mr. Boothe said.
In El Paso, we can chalk it up a lesson that we should have learned but didn’t.
Anyone want to go to a water park?