Will West County Commuters Ride MetroBus During Highway 40 Reconstruction?
Yesterday's Post-Dispatch suggests "Metro might miss its big chance to get more riders" because serious budget woes will make it impossible to increase MetroBus service during the construction of The New I-64.
In fact, major cutbacks in bus and MetroLink service are anticipated if new revenue sources are not found.
To me, it's seems unlikely that West County commuters would choose the bus anyway. A few already do, on the four existing West Corridor Express routes, two running on Highway 40 and two running on I-44.
But how many people really work downtown anymore that would consider using the bus as a viable option? There isn't really an easy way to get to downtown Clayton, for example, or even the West Port area, via the bus from West County.
Although suburb-to-suburb commuting is the dominant pattern in the metro St. Louis area, MetroBus does a pretty poor job of making such connections. The only north-south crosstown bus routes that extend all the way across St. Louis County are the #47 Cross-County and the #49 Lindbergh. Neither route runs particularly often, nor particularly on-time. Both already are significantly impacted by traffic delays. There is no north-south bus service west of Lindbergh, period.
Although Cross County MetroLink will undoubtedly be boosted in its initial months by its newness and by the fear of congestion related to the reconstruction of 40, I'm not sure it will last.
Are many people really going to wend their way down congested alternate routes like Clayton Road or Manchester all the way east to about Hanley, and then get on the train to get into downtown Clayton or downtown St. Louis?
Somehow, I'm skeptical.
The ones who will be really hurt by this are the reverse commuters. Suppose you live in North City and work at St. Luke's Hospital out on Highway 141. Currently, a transit trip probably takes 2+ hours each way to get to work.
Cross County MetroLink would shave a good 10 minutes off the travel time for the section of that trip between Forest Park MetroLink station and the I-170/Highway 40 interchange vicinity. Currently, the #58 Clayton-Ballas enters 40 at Brentwood to head west out to Ballas. The proposed #58 Chesterfield-Ellisville route may enter 40 West at Hanley, destined for Ballas.
Whatever time was gained by the MetroLink expansion will be quickly lost by the bus waiting in traffic between Hanley and Spoede, the end of the reconstruction project zone. It may not be as congested as peak-hour inbound traffic, but it will be pretty rough.
Nevertheless, if I was in Larry Salci's expensive shoes, I would provide whatever data necessary to convince the St Louis County Council to send Metro some more money. Specifically, there's the major sticking point of the 0.5% Transportation Sales Tax, part of which is allocated to Metro on a roughly dollar-for-dollar match with the contribution made by the City of St. Louis' own 0.5% Transportation Sales Tax.
In the City, all that money goes to Metro. In the County, millions are left over after matching the City's contribution. Those funds go into the "Special Road and Bridge Fund" which supports the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic.
I can't get a good picture of just how much money this is. At one point, I think I heard $20 million. It may be more or less. Anyway, changing this arrangement would really require the assent of the representatives of unincorporated St. Louis County, where almost all residential streets are maintained by St. Louis County's highway department. There - unlike in the City of St. Louis - residential streets are usually cleared of snow pretty promptly. In the 91 municipalities of St. Louis County, most residential streets are maintained by the cities themselves, sometimes under contract with St. Louis County. Only "County Arterial Roads" like Big Bend or Hanley are County-maintained inside the municipalities. So a change to the sales tax arrangement wouldn't impact them as much.
Not surprisingly, County Council members who represent large unincorporated areas like John Campisi and Greg Quinn typically oppose changes to this arrangement. Would a promise of increased bus service in their areas help Metro's case? Maybe a little.
In any case, I'm not optimistic. But it might be worth a try.