Utility Work Begins On Loop Trolley Project

The Loop Trolley bell is not clanging yet, but track laying along the 2.2-mile route could begin in September, according to Joe Edwards, a Loop businessman and chairman of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District.

“I am relieved and excited,” Edwards said in the wake of University City approval of a trolley construction, maintenance and operations agreement and a permanent easement pact, both of which Edwards said remove the last barriers to trolley construction.

In fact, Edwards later said that AT&T workers had begun relocating and upgrading its services along the route, and the district also reported that Laclede Gas had begun relocating a natural gas line at Skinker and Forest Park boulevards.

“Utility relocation work has already started, and actual track construction could begin sometime in September,” Edwards said.

Not so fast, said Tom Sullivan, who has worked to derail the trolley before it gets on track.

“Joe puts a happy spin on everything,” Sullivan said. “The idea that everything is going smoothly just isn’t true.”

Among other issues, Sullivan maintains that the project’s final plan still requires approval from University City council members; that a federal lawsuit now on appeal could stall the trolley project either by court order or by contractor reluctance to begin construction, and that the boundaries of the transportation development district (TDD) are in dispute.

However, University City Mayor Shelley Welsch, who is also a board member of the TDD, said the project has all of the city council approvals needed.

“As I understand it, once the council approved the agreement at our last council meeting (June 30), and once (City Manager Lehman Walker) signs it, the project can begin in University City,” Welsch said. “There is nothing stopping it.”

Walker told the West End Word that he is reviewing the agreement and should be in a position to sign the agreement “within the next couple of weeks.”

Edwards said that the project − except for routine construction permits − has all of the approvals needed from both University City and the city of St. Louis, which has jurisdiction over a segment of the trolley route. Neither of two lawsuits, one of which was dismissed by a federal judge, has resulted in a court order prohibiting construction and operations to begin, nor have the boundaries of the TDD been effectively challenged, Edwards said.

“All of those questions have been answered,” Edwards said.

The only remaining impediment to trolley construction, Edwards said, would likely be over-budget bids by construction contractors, but he said he is confident that bid proposals due July 31 will be under budget. Contractors will be submitting bids for installation of track, overhead wire, bridge work and other activities that should account for about $20 million of the total $43 million project, officials said.

“The bidding climate is still competitive, and contractors want to put their people to work,” Edwards said.

Once construction begins, plans call for work to proceed in two-block sections, each of which will take two to three weeks to complete, Edwards said.

“This is a pretty simple project,” he said. “There will be no on-street parking for two weeks (on each section), but two-way traffic will still flow and the sidewalks will be open. You do everything you can to keep the street open and (provide) access to the retail stores and restaurants.”

An exception, Edwards said, is the DeBaliviere Avenue bridge, which would be closed for a period of time, and its vehicular traffic will be detoured.

Construction staging will occur on a vacant lot at 5863 Delmar Blvd. where trucks, trailers, equipment and materials will be temporarily stored, Edwards said.

The Loop Trolley is a planned 2.2-mile fixed-route electric trolley line linking University City’s Loop restaurant, shopping and entertainment district to Forest Park. The route runs on Delmar Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue with the University City Public Library at one end and the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park at the other. Three trolleys will make 10 stops along the route and connect with two MetroLink light rail stations.

Edwards, who recalled that he first proposed the trolley line in 1997, said trolley operations are scheduled to begin in early 2016 but that construction would be completed by the end of 2015 when operator training and system testing would begin. The line is funded by a 1-cent sales tax within district boundaries, as well as by tax credits, grants, tax-increment financing and private contributions.

Loop Trolley Open House

The Loop Trolley TDD is hosting an open house to meet the community, present the Loop Trolley project and discuss construction impacts. Renderings and maps will show the trolley route, station stops, the greenway and more.

There will be no formal presentation. Stop by anytime between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 24, at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd.

Read more: http://www.westendword.com/Articles-Area-News-c-2014-07-15-192747.114137-Utility-Work-Begins-On-Loop-Trolley-Project.html#print#ixzz37fyy45TR
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West End Word ©July 2014

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