Trolley Song: A new source of funds pushes forward the plan for streetcars on Delmar Boulevard

Some ten years have passed — three years longer than it took to build the Transcontinental Railroad — since Joe Edwards first envisioned a trolley line that would connect University City to Forest Park. But the Delmar Loop's most prolific entrepreneur has not let a single detail of the ambitious plan slip from his mind's eye.

"It'll ease traffic congestion," Edwards insists, as he begins to run through a much-practiced pitch. "Not only is it a great economic development stimulator — since it's a stable, predictable track, people really invest around it — it's fun. Tourists love it. They can kind of daydream as they look at the shops and think about where to get off."

The trolley will start around Kingsland Avenue and run along Delmar Boulevard to DeBaliviere Avenue, then shuttle south to the Missouri History Museum. If it all comes together, vintage trolley cars will amble by at ten-minute intervals, allowing people to park anywhere along the route and hop a ride to Forest Park or the Delmar MetroLink station.

The Delmar Loop's name is derived from the turnaround, or loop, that once allowed streetcars to return to the City of St. Louis. Those old-time streetcars will be an attraction unto themselves, says Edwards. "There'll be different colors, which will be fun for people in the sidewalk cafes."

Soon, Edwards expects to have millions of dollars in dedicated sales-tax revenue devoted to the trolley project. Businesses along the proposed 2.2-mile route will begin collecting an additional 1 percent sales tax this fall, October 1 at the earliest. "It's a big step in making the Loop trolley a reality," Edwards says.

Property owners and residents along the route approved the sales tax in May by agreeing to create the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District. Edwards, whose businesses and real estate holdings on Delmar include Blueberry Hill, the Tivoli Theatre building, The Pageant and a hotel under construction, serves on the transportation district's board of directors.

Back in 2000, Metro pegged the cost of installing the streetcar line at $32 million, but Edwards expects to have a new estimate by the end of 2009. The Loop Trolley Company, a nonprofit that would operate the system, recently won a $1.5 million federal grant for a design study. "So sixteen months from now, we'll know exactly what it's going to cost," says Edwards, who is also president of the non-profit organization.

Backed by private donations — and now local taxes — the ever-persistent Edwards can't envision that Congress would deny St. Louis its long-awaited trolley on Delmar Boulevard, chosen earlier this year by the American Planning Association as one of the 10 Great Streets in America.

"This project is farther along than projects in other states, so just give Missouri some money for clean, electric transportation," says Edwards. "Maybe I'm just dreaming, but I'm hoping in two and a half, three years, it'll be up and running."