Delmar Loop trolley construction set to begin in March

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After years of delays, the $43 million Loop Trolley is back on track. With design changes made and funding questions resolved, construction of the trolley is set to begin in March.

Project officials said Tuesday work will start at the western end of the 2-mile streetcar line that will run between the Delmar Loop and Forest Park. Loop businessman Joe Edwards began promoting the project more than a decade ago.

Officials said the project is scheduled for completion in mid-2016 and, after test runs, it will begin service late next year.

First on the construction list involves work aimed at improving car traffic: rebuilding the existing roundabout near the Lion Gates at Trinity Avenue and Delmar Boulevard. Chris Poehler, administrator of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, said the roundabout is designed to increase car safety, improve traffic flow and provide an attractive Loop entrance.

Track work is expected to start in late May, beginning on Delmar near Kingsland Avenue. Vehicular traffic will continue during construction.

Poehler, an engineer and transit planner on loan to the Loop Trolley from the Metro transit agency, said the project has overcome many obstacles. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s taken a significant effort by a lot of people.

“We’re very excited we’re going to be starting this project soon and bringing a great amenity to the people of this region.”

Skeptics of the project have said the streetcar would clog vehicular traffic on Delmar and attract few riders. Some added that the area’s two MetroLink stations already provide adequate public transit.

Mainly to cut costs, the Loop Trolley has undergone some design changes.

The route between the University City Public Library and the History Museum in Forest Park is a bit shorter than first envisioned. The line will have 10 stops along Delmar and DeBaliviere Avenue.

Streetcars able to operate on both battery power and overhead electric lines were dropped in favor of cars powered by overhead lines.

In addition, instead of having a turnaround at both ends of the line, streetcars will travel to one terminus, then reverse direction. Poehler said the vintage-looking streetcars will have cabs at both ends to allow drivers to operate them in either direction.

Much like the streetcar line that operated on Delmar decades ago, Loop Trolley track will allow streetcars to run with traffic between the University City library and the Delmar MetroLink station. There, the line will transition to a single track in the median until it turns south on DeBaliviere.

Vehicular traffic on DeBaliviere will be shifted to one side to allow streetcars to operate on their own single-track right of way next to an extension of the Great River Greenway’s St. Vincent recreational trail.

Poehler said Loop Trolley officials project annual ridership of 394,000.

More than half of project’s funding is a nearly $25 million Federal Transit Administration grant awarded in 2010. FTA officials, unhappy with the Loop Trolley’s progress, had threatened to withdraw the grant before Poehler joined the project about 18 months ago and accelerated planning.

In addition to FTA money, federal funding sources are grants from the Federal Highway Administration Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement Program and Surface Transportation Program.

Other funding comes from the Great Rivers Greenway, a 1-cent sales tax within trolley district boundaries, about $15 million in tax credits, tax-increment financing and, so far, about $500,000 in private contributions.

Contractors include KCI Construction Co. for track and other infrastructure, Wissehr Electrical Contractors for the trolley overhead contact system and lighting and KCI Construction Co. for rehab of the maintenance building in the old Delmar High School in St. Louis. Kwame Building Group is the construction manager.

Owners of a recently opened Loop business are pleased to see the streetcar advance from planning to construction.

Jack Noecker, general manager of the Good Pie, which relocated last year to 6665 Delmar from midtown, said the streetcar will bring more people to the Loop’s western end.

“We’re happy to have it,” he said. “We’re all for it, as a matter of fact.”

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.