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Feds threaten to take back millions in grants used to build the dormant Loop Trolley

The Loop Trolley has its inaugural run

One of the Loop trolleys makes a stop at the Missouri History Museum Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, after a long-awaited roll-out. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com

From concept in 1997 to federal grants, civil lawsuits, construction delays and closures, a look at the Loop Trolley's 24-year journey.

JEFFERSON CITY — St. Louis area officials have until Feb. 1 to submit a plan to restart service on the idled Loop Trolley or face the prospect of repaying millions of dollars in grants to the federal government.

In a letter sent Monday to St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, the regional administrator of the Federal Transit Administration said the plan must include four days of trolley service per week featuring three vehicles, with a restart date of June 1.

The 2.2-mile streetcar line, which links the western end of the Delmar Loop commercial area in University City and the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, opened in November 2018 after years of construction and other delays.

With ticket sales and farebox revenue lagging significantly, the trolley shut down in December 2019. It was supposed to reopen in April 2020, but COVID-19 altered those plans.

In the two-page letter, FTA regional chief Mokhtee Ahmad outlined the various pools of federal money that helped pay for the $51 million project. Under terms of accepting the $37.4 million in federal grants, trolley supporters in 2012 said the route would run seven days per week with five vehicles.

Jones spokesman Nick Dunne said the letter confirms what the mayor has been saying about the trolley’s finances for months.

Dunne said Jones is reviewing the financials of the special sales tax district established to fund the line, as well as the Loop Trolley Co.

“We have to have a plan to get it operational by February 2022,” Dunne said.

Also included in the letter were businessman Joe Edwards, who promoted the project and sits on the board of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, University City Mayor Terry Crow and Taulby Roach, president and CEO of Bi-State Development Agency.

Page said Monday that having to pay back funding would be a “black eye” for the region.

The letter comes after the Bi-State board in January 2020 rejected a plan to take over the line for four years as part of its Metro transit system.

Roach warned at the time that defaulting on the trolley grant could harm the region’s chances of winning future federal discretionary aid for transportation projects.

In October, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments also rejected a proposed $1.26 million federal grant to help revive the dormant trolley.

Under terms of that grant, the transportation district would have contributed $540,000 in matching funds to get the trolley operating for two years offering service for four days a week.

Page, at his weekly press conference, said East-West Gateway’s decision was “unfortunate.”

“That was unfortunately short-sighted,” Page said.

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