After more than six months of discussion, the Bi-State Development Board of Directors has given its support to adding Franklin County as a member.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the vote was actually taken in August, but for unknown reasons the notification letter never arrived.
During discussions last summer, Griesheimer made it no secret he wanted to see the county join with Bi-State Development and possibly expand bus, shuttle and eventually Metro-Link service west.
“I would love to see more mass transit activities in the county,” Griesheimer said. “A large section of our population drives to St. Louis every day for work and buses or light rail to this area would be a great asset for residents.”
Griesheimer added a formal membership to Bi-State would not cost the county anything on the front end in the form of dues. Eventually, there would have to be some type of tax to residents to fund transit programs and that would have to go to voters.
Griesheimer said in addition to bus routes to and from St. Louis, he would like to see public transportation from town to town within the county as well.
Until now, Franklin County was the only St. Louis Metro county that is not a member of the organization.
To change that, Griesheimer said the process involves passage of legislation in both the Missouri and Illinois General Assemblies in support of the membership, but they must move quickly with the deadline for bill filing approaching at the end of this month.
“As a former legislator, I would assume this would go through as a consent bill,” Griesheimer said. “As a non-fiscal note, it should fly through.”
Next, a federal bill will have to be passed with the same language and eventually signed into law by the president.
Griesheimer said he has already spoken to State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who assured him he would sponsor the bill in Jefferson City.
He added he would soon be talking to Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer about carrying the bill to Washington.
On the Illinois side, Grieshiemer was drafting a request to State Rep. Jerry Costello Jr., D-Belleville, who represents the 116th district, which includes portions of St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph and Perry counties, that border Missouri just across the Mississippi River.
If needed, a request may be sent to Illinois U.S. Congressman Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. His district parallels the river and stretches from the Alton area down to Cairo on the Kentucky border.
In a letter dated Jan. 25, Bi-State president and CEO John Nations says, although the process may seem cumbersome and daunting, their Compact has been amended several times in the past, including as recently as 2012 to allow Bi-State to take part in the renovations at the Gateway Arch.
Nations added he knew of no anticipated opposition to the inclusion of Franklin County to their jurisdiction.
Last summer, Nations said he was pleased that Franklin County has shown interest in joining and is happy to continue the conversation with Griesheimer.
“There are a lot of benefits to Franklin County for joining Bi-State,” Nations said. “It is not just about transportation, it is about giving people access. The addition of Franklin County to Bi-State will strengthen the area as a whole and make it more attractive nationally and globally for commerce.”
If Franklin County is successful in joining, it would then be up to county officials to determine what types of mass transit they would require and what routes they would take.
“It is based on whatever the jurisdictions see as a need,” Nations said. “We could then offer them a service package. Of all of our members we only provide public transit to St. Louis City, County and St. Clair County in Illinois. Local officials have control.”
As far as the steps that must be taken to join Bi-State, Nations said the process can be lengthy, but is not insurmountable.
“The process sounds daunting,” Nations said. “But it is certainly doable. It’s just a matter of amending the agreement and local legislators agreeing on how best to use Bi-State.”
Bi-State was formed under federal interstate commerce rules and an agreement between Illinois and Missouri. The original charter, signed by President Truman, still hangs in the corporate office today.