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North-south MetroLink line should go further north, Muhammad says

CITY HALL – A discussion at a Board of Aldermen committee meeting about plans for a MetroLink line to connect north and south St. Louis brought questions about whether the line would go far enough into the north side to meet that area’s needs. 

“There is no station, even with this expansion,” 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad noted. “I just want to know, where is that?”

Jessica Gershman, Metro’s assistant director of planning, told those at the Board of Aldermen’s Legislation Committee meeting on Monday night that the initial stations for the route could be at 16th Street and Cass Avenue and at 14th Street and Delmar Boulevard on the north side; and Jefferson Avenue and Broadway on the south side.

Gershman said it was important to encourage economic development along the line. 

Gershman said a 2018-19 Transit Oriented Development Planning study of the proposed northside-southside MetroLink project said that a key goal would be promoting economic development in the area of MetroLink expansion. That study, funded by a $375,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration, identified the three station areas mentioned by Gershman.

Those stations would be easily accessible to pedestrians, buses and other forms of local transportation. The stations would be the basis of future development.

After the initial development around those stations, other stations would follow, causing the lines to grow further into south St. Louis and northwest St. Louis. 

Money would come from part of a half-cent economic development sales tax approved by voters in April 2017.

“The money that’s sitting in the economic development sales tax fund is for the minimum operating segment that was identified by a previous study,” Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, who chairs the Legislation Committee, said.

Jerry Vallely, external communication manager for the Bi-State Development Agency, said in an email that the Transit Oriented Development study focused on only three proposed station areas.

“It did not examine every station, which I think may have led to some confusion at the meeting,” Vallely said.

A study by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments in 2018 said the north side stations in the minimum  level would be at Grand Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue, Parnell Street at Natural Bridge, Parnell at Cass, near the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Cass at 16th and 14th and Delmar.

Told of this, Muhammad said, “That wasn’t listed in the study that they gave us.” North St. Louis deserves to benefit because it has more than 50 percent of the bus ridership of the city, he said.

Of the revenue from the 2017 half-cent economic development sales tax, 60 percent would go to transit and 40 percent would be split evenly among workforce development and human services; neighborhood revitalization; public safety infrastructure; and citywide infrastructure. The 60 percent for transit is meant to fund a new North-South MetroLink alignment. 

Figures provided at Monday’s meeting by Stephen Conway, chief of staff for Mayor Lyda Krewson, showed that the city had collected more than $52 million through the economic development tax since 2017.

Out of that, $31.8 million was for transit, and $5.3 million for each of the four smaller purposes.

In another matter, the committee approved a bill sponsored by Ingrassia to prohibit the city government from asking job applicants their salary history.

Ingrassia said that applicants who gave a figure might be limited in what they were offered. She said this especially applied to African-American women, who generally are paid less.

Ingrassia also said she planned to introduce legislation to extend this rule to every employer in the city.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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