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Loop Trolley seeks $1.26 million more in federal aid to fund restart, free service

Loop Trolley seeks $1.26 million more in federal aid to fund restart, free service

Looped in

An empty trolley car sits parked in the Loop Trolley garage next to Delmar Boulevard on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. There are five trolleys parked in the garage, two are ready for service and were in use before being shut down last year, a third is in the process of being certified for service and the other two are in reserve for future use. Photo by Colter Peterson,

ST. LOUIS — Backers of the Loop Trolley are trying again for more government money to restart the trouble-plagued enterprise — this time with free service four days a week.

The trolley operation has submitted a request for a $1.26 million grant from the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, a regional agency that oversees federal transportation dollars in the metro area.

Jim Wild, Gateway’s executive director, said Monday that the money sought would come from a program aimed at easing traffic congestion and improving air quality.

“We do need the money to bring this back up,” said Joe Edwards, the University City entrepreneur who heads the sales tax district set up to help fund the trolley line, which straddles the U. City-St. Louis border. “The project will succeed if we persevere.”

The money would be in addition to the $51 million already spent — much of it federal dollars — on building the 2.2-mile line connecting the western end of the Delmar Loop in University City to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

Wild said the request would be considered by Gateway along with those for 14 other projects competing for about $20 million available on the Missouri side of the metro area the next two years.

He said Gateway’s staff would review the various proposals and make recommendations to the agency’s board in May or June, with its board making a decision in August. Among the board’s members are key elected officials in St. Louis, St. Louis County and other counties in the region.

The nonprofit Loop Trolley Co. intends to use $540,000 from its sales tax to match the federal grant, which would cover a two-year period beginning next October.

If approved, grant funds likely would be distributed next November or December, Wild said. Kevin Barbeau, the trolley company's executive director, said service could begin about a month after that.

The grant application says the trolley would operate free of charge from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays during the two-year grant period.

By late 2023, the application says, sales tax revenues are expected to have recovered to pre-pandemic levels and the trolley could operate on its own financially.

Barbeau, in an email, said making the trolley free would improve public perception, increase ridership and "support congestion/emissions reductions."

Financial problems forced the trolley to shut down at the end of 2019 after only about a year in business and ridership far below expectations. The trolley also was plagued by operational problems and delays in restoring, delivering and testing its cars.

The request to Gateway follows the Bi-State Development Agency’s refusal last year to go along with a plan for its Metro Transit operation to manage the trolley for four years and to use $1.9 million in unspent federal grants to cover shortfalls.

That spurred a Federal Transit Administration official to warn that if the trolley doesn’t resume operating, the agency might try to get back some of the $25 million in federal money that helped build the line.

The new grant request includes letters of support from two St. Louis aldermen whose wards include part of the route — Heather Navarro, D-28th Ward, and Shameem Clark Hubbard, D-26th Ward.

Also submitting letters of support were officials with Forest Park Forever, the Delmar Loop-East Loop Community Improvement District and the Delmar DivINe development planned for the old St. Luke's Hospital building.

Updated at 12 noon Tuesday with more information

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