Jim Wild is the new leader of a group that largely flies under the radar, but plays a powerful role in making funding decisions for major St. Louis area transportation projects.
He’s the executive director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the region’s planning arm that’s responsible for the roughly $900 million a year in transportation and other regional projects that require federal funding in St. Louis and its surrounding seven counties.
East-West Gateway was formed 50 years ago in response to a federal mandate that metropolitan areas form planning organizations to better coordinate federal transportation and development funding. It also gives technical assistance and planning oversight to local governments and other public agencies for transportation and economic development projects.
Its 24-member board includes local county executives and mayors.
Wild, 48, is just the third man to lead the organization in more than three decades and takes the helm after serving as deputy executive director since May 2012. He has worked for 22 years at East-West Gateway, where he began as a transportation analyst.
He takes over at a time when many ideas — including MetroLink expansion and streetcars — are brewing.
But funding sources are scarce, a reality that shapes how available dollars must be spent, Wild said.
“Preservation is the No. 1 priority of the board,” he said Wednesday, a few hours after the East-West Gateway board of directors voted unanimously to give him the job. “Let’s look at maintaining what we have and building on that when we get funding available.”
That philosophy was laid out in the agency’s most recent long-range regional transportation program report called Connected2045, which outlines the $4 billion worth of projects that are in addition to the $27 billion required over the next 29 years for maintenance.
The report says traditional means of paying for transportation projects here and across the nation are no longer viable and that new ideas for funding — including public-private partnerships and increased fuel taxes — must be considered.
Wild agrees, but says a blend of new sources will be needed. And like it or not, he said a significant investment needs to be made in transportation. And that means somebody has to pay for it.
Still, he stressed the importance of getting plans in place for when money might be ready, including thinking about a MetroLink expansion.
That idea has seen renewed interest since St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger in May authorized a $1 million study to determine where light rail may lead in the future and solicited opinions on three possible routes.
Once a route is chosen, the role of East-West Gateway will be to do the corridor planning.
“We also need to take some leads from the action calls from the Ferguson Commission,” Wild said. That report called for the region to establish transportation priorities and develop a state funding plan to make them happen.
He also stressed the importance of regional collaboration to focus on economic development and improving transportation — an often tricky task, given the vastly different priorities of the rural and urban areas that fall under the agency’s umbrella.
Wild said leaders must look at ways to pay for new Metro buses, which Bi-State Development keeps running longer than other bus systems do, and at ways to grow paratransit for the elderly and disabled.
“I know we live in Missouri and we’re very conservative,” he said. “But at some point, you can’t get blood from a stone.”