Like most St. Louisans, we’ve alternated editorially between being cheerleaders, skeptics, cynics and outright critics of the Delmar Loop trolley boondoggle. It has proved to be an exceedingly expensive and time-consuming gamble that has inconvenienced merchants and dashed public expectations for years.
But finally, the wait is over. On Thursday, the new trolley line will be formally inaugurated, after which real-live passengers will climb aboard for real-live trolley trips along the 2.2-mile route between the Delmar Loop in University City and Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For now, we will be cheerleaders again.
St. Louisans should wish nothing but continued success for the massive investment decisions that transformed the Loop into today’s bustling hub of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. In 2007, the Loop was designated as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.
The whole reason it is called the Loop is that it used to have a turnaround point for streetcars. So it made perfect sense to include a trolley line in the revitalization package. Former Missouri History Museum President Robert Archibald championed the idea as founding president of the Loop Trolley Co., formed in 2001 to raise money for the line. He secured the first $1 million in pledges for what became a $51 million project — $33.9 million of which came from the federal government.
Headache after headache followed the start of construction after the first federal money was approved in 2010. Joe Edwards, the Loop’s more prominent developer and trolley promoter, infamously predicted the line would be open for business by fall 2012. He only missed the mark by six years.
Construction delays seemed endless. Store and restaurant owners complained that the street work was ruining their businesses. Some opted to close. At $25 million per mile, the cost-benefit equation became harder and harder to justify. Testing and adjustments to meet federal safety requirements added to delays.
Last year, Loop Trolley Co. President Les Sterman warned city and county leaders that the line wouldn’t be able to operate unless they kicked in another $500,000. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger reflected this editorial board’s exasperation when he put his foot down and declared: Enough!
In reality, the trolley’s headaches and delays paled in comparison to other cities’ nightmare projects. In Mexico City, voters recently decided to cancel construction of a new $13 billion international airport — already a third of the way toward completion — because they deemed it just too expensive. Boston grappled with its “Big Dig” highway tunnel project for 15 years. Its original price tag was $2.8 billion but mushroomed to $14.6 billion.