MetroLink train
Andrew B. Wilson

I had a friend – a newspaper editor and publisher – who mangled many words, sometimes inventing new ones in the process.

Let everyone else sing the praises of a new book or movie. If he couldn’t make heads or tails of it, he told you so in his own inimitable way. He said it was weirt. Not weird, but weirt.

As a one-word critique, his mispronunciation spoke volumes. Weirt was more than passing strange and more than a little peculiar. If something was weirt, only someone with his head in the clouds, or buried in the sand, would think it worthy of serious consideration.

What else is weirt?

How about plans to spend $2.2 billion in taxpayer money to build a 17-mile extension of the Saint Louis MetroLink light-rail system? That works out to more than $100 million per mile, or about $2,000 per foot.

Despite the colossal expense, it’s a must-do, says Mayor Francis Slay. He calls it “a moral and economic imperative.”

If you believe that, you must also believe that more light rail will help to solve a multitude of urban problems – everything from inner city decay and high unemployment to traffic congestion and air pollution.

In fact, in a sprawling metropolis like Saint Louis, there is little light rail can do to ease, let alone solve, any of those problems.

Since the 1990s, MetroLink has soaked up $3 billion in taxpayer money through capital outlays and operating subsidies. What do we have to show for it?

Very little. MetroLink carries less than one-half of one percent of the area’s commuters. Adding 17 miles to the existing 46 miles of track won’t make much of a difference there.

So here’s a better idea, which people who actually ride on MetroLink – as opposed to the downtown political class – would surely appreciate.

Instead of adding a line, give new cars to all MetroLink riders – to include today’s 44,000 daily riders, plus an estimated 15,000 future riders from the planned expansion.

The local/regional share of the construction cost is $1.1 billion, plenty of money ($18,600 per rider) to buy everyone a new compact. Add the matching federal dollars, and you could give new SUVs to all MetroLink riders.

What else could the St. Louis region do with $1.1 billion. It could:

  • pay tuition for more than 27,000 Missouri residents at the University of Missouri at Saint Louis (for their entire degrees)
  • triple Bi-State Transit’s fleet of buses and make other major improvements
  • send out $500 checks to every man, woman, and child in the metropolitan area.

That is not to say that we should do any of those things; it is just to put the magnitude of the proposed expenditure on MetroLink into a broader perspective.

For Slay and others to advocate spending that much money on an underutilized and largely irrelevant light-rail system is beyond weird; it is truly weirt.

About the Author

Andrew Wilson
Fellow and Senior Writer

A former foreign correspondent who spent four years in the Middle East and served as Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as Britain’s prime minister, Andrew is a regular contributor to leading national publications, including the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.