As any hope for future public funding of the Loop Trolley is tossed around like a hot potato by local leaders, the question of accountability is quickly moving to the forefront.
While it may not be a foregone conclusion that the Trolley’s demise is imminent, many are already asking who is to blame and whether the Trolley’s failure will have lasting impact on the area.
The St. Louis County Council is hoping federal officials will get involved to answer that last question and hold those behind the Loop Trolley project responsible.
Council member Mark Harder [R-District 7] was the first official to not only rebuff any notion of more county funding for the project but also call for an investigation. In a resolution Harder introduced at the Oct. 22 council meeting, the council requested assistance from federal officials in taking a closer look at how the once-promising transportation project came to a point of impending insolvency.
“It would be appropriate to subject the Loop Trolley project to a federal audit given that it yet again finds itself in an unsustainable financial position,” the resolution read in part.
The Loop Trolley began with an ambitious vision to connect many diverse neighborhoods in the Greater St. Louis area with a central means of transit that would also spur economic development along the route. But like so many ambitious projects throughout history, the Loop Trolley has been mired in setbacks and bad luck.
While the Loop Trolley found support among public officials, private investment has been much slower to develop. According to records provided by a Loop Trolley spokesperson, over $51 million dollars has been invested in the project from a variety of both federal and local sources. That includes $3 million dollars from St. Louis County.
All the while private investment, which includes two separate loans for $100,000 each from “private supporters,” has amounted to a mere $900,000 of the Trolley’s overall financial commitment. If insolvency is inevitable, it will be mostly public dollars that are lost.
The people behind the Loop Trolley continue to believe the project has yet to realize its full potential and that its best days could still be ahead.
“We hope the council will move forward on the Loop Trolley Company’s request to convene a meeting of the Committee of the Whole so we can answer any questions regarding LTC’s finances and relationship with Loop Trolley TDD, present more detailed information and discuss how we might work with St. Louis County, the city of St. Louis and Loop Trolley Transportation Development District to devise a path to give this $52 million asset an opportunity to realize its potential as a connector of St. Louis neighborhoods,” Loop Trolley Company Board President John Meyer said in a statement provided to the press.
The resolution by the St. Louis County Council was passed unanimously. Whether it will ultimately result in an audit or investigation by federal officials is yet to be seen. However, despite continued pleas by supporters of the Loop Trolley project, no county officials have indicated any willingness to support additional public funding.