Where is the North-South Line?

Charlie Rosebrough

WHERE IS THE NORTH-SOUTH LINE?

I believe that the lack of a North-South line in our MetroLink is a burgeoning Civil Rights Act violation.

The Statute

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reads in its entirety,

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.[1]

Does It Apply to MetroLink?

While this statute has been used primarily for protection in the education or healthcare context, it is equally applicable to transportation projects that receive federal funds. For those of you, like me, who are unfamiliar with how Missouri pays for its various transportation costs, the breakdown for 2015 is below (Appendix A). As you can see, a large portion of the state budget for transportation comes from the federal government. The logic is this: if you take the federal government’s money, you must play by their rules. One of their rules is the benefits of the federal money cannot be denied on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.

The Standard

How do these standards play out? What is “on the ground of” and what is “denied the benefits of”? To handle these nebulous standards, the Supreme Court of the United States has created a category of cases titled “disparate impact” cases. In these situations, the plaintiff is seeking to prove that the defendant’s actions had a disparate impact on a community of one race, color, or national origin.[2] Importantly, albeit on somewhat shaky terms, Justice Scalia noted that “disparate impact” cases do not require a showing of intention if the plaintiff is not seeking a private right of action.

Does Missouri Meet the Standard?

If intent were a required element, Missouri would likely meet the standard. Few would argue that the shortcomings of our MetroLink are expressly racist. However, because the standard is merely a disparate impact, I would argue no, Missouri does not meet the standard required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or, at the very least, I would argue that Missouri and St. Louis residents should take a hard look at the effect our MetroLink is having.

Based purely on population density and preferable location, there are four areas that would be served best by having access to the MetroLink (Appendix B): The central corridor just north and west of Forest Park, North St. Louis between Natural Bridge Road and Interstate 170, South City around Tower Grove Park and east of South Grand, and of course Downtown St. Louis. Currently, only the central corridor and the downtown area are connected, two mostly Caucasian-populated areas. Meanwhile, the southern and northern communities, which are more heavily populated by African-Americans (Appendix C), have been ignored by our MetroLink, despite having the requisite density.

Instead, federal funding has been poured into projects like the Loop Trolley currently being constructed in the Central West End. This trolley, which runs only 2.2 miles and is being built in a predominantly Caucasian area, has a price tag of $51 million dollars, of which over $25 million are federal funds for public transportation. While millions go to rural highways and boutique projects like the Loop Trolley, St. Louis refuses even to pay for a commission to consider extended MetroLink routes.

Conclusion

As a final note, I would like to mention that Civil Rights issues like our MetroLink affect more than just the injured party. I think John Nations, President & CEO of Bi-State Development Agency & Metro Transit, put the problem in excellent perspective when he said:

If you look around the country at the regions and the cities that are really doing well they have a lot of different components, but one of the elements that you’ll find across the country is they have a good public transportation system and are investing in it.

A weak public transit system has ripple effects. Without a North-South line, St. Louis will continue to segregate our city into mostly African-African communities and mostly Caucasian communities. It will further cripple areas that are already poor, and it clog and wear down existing infrastructure. So do the right thing St. Louis, and unite the city.

 

Charlie Rosebrough*

Edited By: Ryan Reed

[1] 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000d.

[2] Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 281–82 (2001).

* Saint Louis University School of Law, Class of 2018.