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MetroLink one small step closer to serving south county citizens

MetroLink is one small step closer to serving south county.

Consultants have devised four possible routes that could connect south county with the rest of metropolitan St. Louis.

A virtual reality tour of the four potential routes will be offered during public MetroLink planning meetings that will take place:

• From 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Orlando Gardens, 8352 Watson Road.

• From 5 to 8 p.m. today, Sept. 18, in the cafeteria and commons area at Oakville Senior High School, 5557 Milburn Road.

The MetroLink south study began this winter and will take two years to complete. The federal study, which is designed to follow Federal Transit Administration guidelines, is in its third phase — identifying tentative transportation options in south county.

The south county MetroLink study still is in its early stages. In fact, it may take 10 years before the transit system comes to south county, Vicki Englund, St. Louis County Economic Council south county sector specialist, told Port Authority members at their Sept. 9 meeting.

This summer, project consultants were out and about in south county getting their own feel for the area's anatomy and they are facing some challenges. They have been driving through Shrewsbury, Affton and further into south county, she said, determining whether it would make sense to utilize existing railroad tracks for MetroLink routes. In certain parts of the railroad, it makes sense, she said, whereas other parts have homes just feet away from the tracks — tracks that still are in use today.

Consultants also have been examining the topography of the area. Knowing the areas that are more hilly than others is important because it determines route placement.

While MetroLink units can ride at high grades, she said, their maintenance vehicles can not, which consultants have to take into account as they plan the routes.

Donna Day, Metro South study manager, said finding alternative routes to run through south county has been difficult.

Dealing with railroad, topography and traffic conflicts, she said, has made it challenging to weed through hundreds of potential lines. But based on study and feedback from August public meetings, she said four preliminary alternatives have been set.

"There is no easy way to do this," Day said. "We have a lot of work to do before these are finalized."

The four preliminary routes run along:

• Watson, Laclede Station Road, Tesson Ferry and down past Interstate 270.

• The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and would join Interstate 55 near the south county center.

• Mackenzie and would follow Interstate 55.

• River des Peres Boulevard and would join Interstate 55.

"None of these areas will be easy to analyze at all," Day said. "I certainly hope we can do one of them at this point."

No route is set in stone. She said it may be necessary combine some of the routes since no single route is without faults.

The line that would run along the railroad is posing significant concerns.

"It's not easy to share right of way with an active freight railroad," she said.

Shared space and liability concerns also exist with aligning a MetroLink route to the railroad, she said, which receives a dozen trains daily.

The River des Peres line would run through a park, which would require the study team to prove to the federal government why that should happen, she said.

Since there are no major connecting streets in south county, she said, other lines run into traffic issues.

Traffic signals and turns would affect speed because the units don't like to turn corners, she said.

It's possible MetroLink may never be able to get to south county, she said.

Instead, an enhanced bus system may work better transporting people to a MetroLink route that would stop at Gravois.

More public feedback and study is needed, she said, before planners can decide on a final route.

At this point, Englund said, public meetings and tours are designed to collect public feedback and familiarize people with an additional transportation concept.

In August, community members attended Metro South Study planning meetings and were able to ask questions and offer route suggestions. Also, the study has sponsored tours of existing lines for chamber of commerce directors, she said, in order to acquaint them with the system.

They have been riding routes out to the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and into Illinois.

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