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St. Louis Light Rail Expansion Plans Energize Economic Mobility

Metro modernizes its system to support residents and regional development

By Taulby Roach, President and CEO | Bi-State Development 

The landscape in the St. Louis region is rapidly changing. We are embracing our public transportation and leveraging our system to serve our strongest economic assets such as educational institutions, research and technology facilities, and innovation hubs.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Transit Agency (Metro) made a fundamental policy shift to grow ridership by capitalizing on existing economic investment. Our new mobility strategy focuses on providing and developing transit services where the city is developing. It acknowledges transit’s role in St. Louis’ equation for economic success by providing safe, efficient mobility for people commuting to and from work. Following are some of the ways we are putting that approach into action.

Expanding strategically

One of the most exciting economic investments in St. Louis and the largest federal investment in the city’s history is the $1.7 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) West Facilities campus. When the 97-acre campus opens in 2026, it will house an operations building, two parking garages, a visitor control center, a remote inspection facility, a central utility plant and 3,100 employees.

In partnership with the City of St. Louis, we are moving forward with plans to expand our light-rail system to serve the future NGA campus and the subsequent development it will spark. The proposed 5.8-mile, north-south MetroLink Green Line will provide transit access to neighborhoods that have seen decades of economic divestment and where the public transit modal split is high. It purposely dovetails with the city’s plan to ensure new developments promote economic opportunities for historically disadvantaged neighborhoods and the NGA’s commitment to increasing diversity among its workforce. Furthermore, one of the MetroLink Green Line stations will be near CityPark, St. Louis’ new MLS soccer stadium, helping to connect fans to the sporting venue.

Addressing basic passenger needs

To ensure continued ridership growth and encourage people to use Metro Transit, we are focusing on safety and security improvements throughout the transit system. Customer surveys prioritized the need to feel safe, secure and comfortable using transit, and our Secure Platform Plan project is in direct response to this feedback and input from our law enforcement partners and transit funding partners.

The Secure Platform Plan, among the first of its kind in the nation, is a state-of-the-art security plan that enhances the customer experience by creating centralized, highly secure entrances at all 38 MetroLink stations. Each MetroLink station will be transitioned from open access to closed access. Closing the access to the station platforms will incorporate security gates, upgraded welded wire fencing around the perimeter, closed-circuit TVs with real-time monitoring and uniformed Metro security patrols to ensure code-of-conduct compliance and fare enforcement.

In addition to securing the physical environment at the station platforms, a new electronic fare collection system tied into the security gates will limit access to the MetroLink platforms to paying customers only. Once customers purchase a ticket with their smartphones or scan a paper pass, then and only then, will the gate open, allowing them entrance to the station platform. People without valid tickets will not be able to enter.

The installation of new fencing and security gates at four MetroLink stations in St. Clair County, Illinois, is in its final stages with work beginning later this summer on the next group of seven stations in Missouri. We are confident these improvements will enhance relationships with current customers and help attract new riders.

Riders also will experience enhanced safety, security and comfort as we introduce new rolling stock, station improvements and other amenities. We are procuring up to 55 new light-rail cars, phased in over several years, equipped with closed-circuit TV cameras, antimicrobial interiors and Wi-Fi. The new vehicles will help us continue to provide fast, reliable and safe service. We also are exploring alternative energies and applying efficiencies that will contribute to safer, cleaner neighborhoods and better places to live and work.

A rendering of Metro Transit's state-of-the-art Secure Platform Plan, which secures the entrances to stations.
 

Private sector investment

We take pride in creating private-public funding opportunities with likeminded partners who believe safe public transportation is vital to the economic growth in the St. Louis region. Some of the top St. Louis area companies and organizations understand the role public transit plays on a daily basis for their employees, customers and clients so they have contributed a total of $10.7 million toward the estimated $52 million cost of implementing the Secure Platform Plan.

Our goal is to complete the secure platform installations by the end of 2026 so our private-sector partners can see a return on their investments as soon as possible.

Co-creating and collaborating

We are listening to and applying expertise from all stakeholders to realize our shared vision for the proposed MetroLink Green Line. For example, the Green Line will cross a bridge owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). The more direction and detail we collect from MoDOT and other stakeholders, the clearer our timeline and budget become. When transit agencies deploy the right resources and expertise and use them appropriately, ambitious projects, such as the Green Line, can benefit from greater budget and schedule certainty earlier in the project’s life cycle.

As we strive to serve nearly 60,000 MetroLink riders daily, we never want to lose sight of the people we serve. We have found the best way to provide a system the public will ride is to co-create it with them. Our best, most effective tool is respectful, reasonable conversations with elected officials and constituent groups, where we listen to their ideas, needs and concerns and look for ways to accommodate their needs. By co-creating the Green Line with the local community, we begin to cultivate a sense of project ownership and trust.

Changing with our city

As the St. Louis region changes, Metro Transit changes with it. We are embracing our role in supporting economic growth and improving quality of life through strategic service expansions. Our groundbreaking Secure Platform Plan is enhancing safety and inviting new ridership. We are collaborating with riders and residents, partnering with the private sector and bringing our economic mobility initiatives to life. By capitalizing on existing economic investments, we are building a vibrant, resilient and responsive future for Metro and region we serve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taulby Roach
President and CEO | Bi-State Development

As President and CEO of Bi-State Development, Roach is committed to providing the eastern Missouri-southwestern Illinois area with a world-class transportation system and building a regional foundation for economic development, equity and growth. Bi-State Development was established through a federal compact to promote regional economic development in the two-state area. It achieves its mission of improving lives in the bi-state area by delivering innovative regional economic initiatives and public services through its enterprises: Metro Transit, Gateway Arch Riverfront, St. Louis Downtown Airport, and the St. Louis Regional Freightway.