Add it to the list of urban transit boondoggles | EDITORIAL

Supporters of building a billion-dollar light rail system along Maryland Parkway are hoping the plan will come to fruition even though local transportation officials rejected the option more than two years ago. Hopefully such optimism is unwarranted, however, as the evidence continues to mount that much-touted transit projects are too often a massive fiasco for taxpayers.

The latest fiasco comes from St. Louis.

The St. Louis Loop Trolley, with three cars, was designed in the 1990s and supposed to revive the city’s long history with streetcars, which were phased out in 1966. In 2010, the project was on line for millions of dollars in federal funding and donors have pledged a windfall for local businesses along the proposed 2.2-mile line. (Seems familiar?)

Yet by the time the line opened in 2018, it was six years behind and $ 10 million over budget, reports Supporters had sold the deal with inflated ridership and revenue estimates, of course, a common tactic. The Riverfront Times in St. Louis noted that the cart was expected to generate around $ 400,000 per year in ticket sales, but only grossed $ 32,000 in the first 12 months.

Within a year, tram operators were looking for additional taxpayer money. County officials didn’t hesitate, and the line was shut down at the end of 2019. The Times rightly reported that the cart broke down on its last trip.

“After years of construction and mechanical delays,” Danny Wicentowski wrote for The Times following this unfortunate last trip, “only the rails of this Ozymandian effort remain for travelers to marvel.”

But this white elephant has not finished bathing in an oasis of taxpayer generosity. Last month, federal transit officials demanded that St. Louis either relaunch the streetcar line or return the $ 37 million they provided to help build it. If local poles do not accept either option, they will jeopardize future federal public transit funds.

Whichever route local politicians take, taxpayers remain the ultimate losers. Federal bureaucrats will pay no penalties for pouring other people’s money onto a questionable transmission line, while officials in St. Louis can now plausibly say that the fiscally responsible alternative is to draw additional public funds for resuscitate the cart.

“The mess that is the St. Louis streetcar suggests that overall transit funding should come from the federal government,” Reason’s Christian Britschgi wrote this week. “If local and state policymakers were to rely more on their own constituents and taxpayers to fund projects, they should be more attentive to those they have chosen.

A three-car streetcar is not a streetcar, but the result has been a familiar failure that has become the hallmark of modern transit projects. And that’s something Clark County transportation officials need to keep in mind.

Melvin Z. Madore