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Road crews hustle to finish extension

Heavy road equipment was part of the construction effort to build an overpass for the Page Avenue extension project in St. Charles County. (2003 file photo/Larry Williams/Post-Dispatch)  

A transportation plan for the next three decades in the St. Louis area lays bare the uncertainty of funding new projects.

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the region’s planning arm, develops a long-range regional transportation program every four years. The newest report is called Connected2045.

It describes the $4 billion worth of projects that are in addition to the $27 billion required over the next 29 years for maintenance. Those who compiled it say their approach to forecasting future revenue was conservative, given the uncertainty surrounding transportation funding.

“The traditional means of funding transportation in St. Louis and across the nation are no longer viable — policymakers nationally and at the state and local level will need to consider new transportation funding mechanisms, including but not limited to a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, sales tax, increased motor fuel taxes, public-private partnerships, freight fees, tolls or some combination thereof to ensure adequate funding in the future,” the report says.

The Congressional Budget Office anticipates that by 2024 there will be a $172 billion shortfall in the national transportation budget.

The East-West Gateway report highlights 28 priority projects considered affordable within the region’s anticipated resources for the next 30 years. Projects on that list include changes to the Highway 40 (Interstate 64) interchange at Grand/Market at a cost of $20 million; $54 million for the construction of the David Hoekel Parkway to connect Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 61 in western Wentzville and St. Charles County; and $215 million to replace the Interstate 270 bridge over the Mississippi River.

It also lists “illustrative projects,” which can only happen if additional funding somehow becomes available. It includes a St. Louis streetcar system for $410 million and billions of dollars in MetroLink expansions.

No MetroLink expansions made the priority list, a sore spot among those who commented about the report earlier this month in an online chat with planners.

“Everybody is sick of hearing that funding transit is a significant challenge, especially when funding highways (further depleting revenue capture for transit) is never seen as a challenge. Just be leaders and find a way to fund it. It’s undisputedly what the region needs,” said one commenter.

Without additional revenue, Metro will have $17.9 billion in operating funds through 2045, the report says, but will require $19.1 billion to keep vehicles and facilities in good condition and to maintain existing service levels — a $1.2 billion shortfall that doesn’t leave any room for new projects.

For it to maintain operations and pursue rail and bus expansions, a revenue increase equal to another half-cent sales tax hike in St. Louis and St. Louis County would be required, the report says.

Things are also grim for the Illinois and Missouri departments of transportation.

Still, the 30-year plan is conceptual and can change as needed, said Peter Koeppel, East-West Gateway’s long-range transportation plan coordinator.

“It’s not like we’re wedded to this for the future. It’s revised on a regular basis,” he said.

And in compiling the report, the very different needs of different parts of the region had to be taken into consideration, so it delves into demographics including poverty and population shifts.

Some key statistics it cites:

• The average St. Louisan drives 25.4 miles per day, but 23.5 percent of black households do not have access to a car, compared with 5.2 percent of white households.

• Only 2.3 percent of workers used public transit to get to work in 2012, but more than half of workers live in areas with access to transit.

• Young adults in 2009 drove 23 percent fewer miles, traveled 40 percent more miles on transit and took 24 percent more bike trips than young adults in 2001.

And the report says that over the last half-century, the region’s slow-growing population shifted away from the urban core to suburban and rural areas.

St. Charles, Jefferson and Monroe counties have seen the greatest increases in population since 1950, when St. Louis saw the biggest population decline, although the city’s population has started to stabilize since 2010.

There’s still time to voice your opinion before the report is finalized. Another online chat is set for 6 p.m. Monday at ewgateway.org.

Written comments must be received or postmarked by May 29, either by email to rtp@ewgateway.org or mailed to East-West Gateway Council of Governments, One South Memorial Drive, Suite 1600, St. Louis, Mo. 63102, Attn: Connected2045.

The East-West board of directors is likely to vote on the plan at its June 24 meeting.

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