U.S. may want millions back if trolley stops running

ST. LOUIS (AP) — If a streetcar line ceases operation 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 coordinates federal transportation funding for 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 entity that would have to repay the money was the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, which is funded by a 1 percent tax on businesses along the trolley line.

The federal 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 Wednesday. The trolley began operation in November after years of delays. Ridership has been low.

Trolley board president John Meyer said Saturday that the line needed $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 that the city “has not ruled out” financial aid for the trolley. He didn’t elaborate on what revenue sources were being considered.

But St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said the trolley project was supposed to pay for itself through ridership.

“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 funding.

“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.”

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