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UNIVERSITY CITY • In a program with touches fit for a high school pep rally, top civic leaders in St. Louis and University City on Thursday marked the start of construction on a “first-class” streetcar system connecting the Loop with Forest Park.

The $43 million, two-mile Loop Trolley is expected to open in late 2016. Construction begins on a roundabout at Delmar Boulevard and Trinity Avenue later this month.

“Today we go back to the future,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. “The Loop, of course, actually got its name from the streetcar system that serviced this area, connecting people to restaurants, shopping, entertainment and jobs.”

Businessman Joe Edwards said a vintage trolley “built in a first-class manner” can support growth of economic development and tourism.

“Clean electric transit is a key component for revitalizing cities in America,” Edwards said before ringing an 80-year-old trolley bell to kick off the project.

In 2013, the Federal Transit Administration threatened to pull more than $22 million in funding after initially slow progress. St. Louis was one of six U.S. regions to receive a prized “urban circulator” grant in 2010. The region received $24.99 million, representing more than half of the Loop Trolley’s cost.

Last year, the FTA notified project planners that they had met all of the conditions to keep the funding. On Thursday, FTA’s Region 7 administrator, Mokhtee Ahmad, said he looks forward to riding the first trolley.

“I want to thank many people for their support,” Ahmad said. “We would not have been here without it. They came together.”

The University City High School marching band kicked off the gathering. The crowd also was entertained by the Original River Critters Jazz Band.

“This day has been a long time in coming,” said University City Mayor Shelley Welsch. “The idea for the Loop Trolley was born in the last century.”

Ken Leiser is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.