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Post weak on transportation.

Transportation is a priority topic for metropolitan regions. Ask citizens which local issues matter most to them and you can rest assured that traffic will be at or near the top of the list.

In most areas, the metropolitan planning organization is the key player for policy decisions about future transportation investments. That's because in the late 1960s the federal government--the supplier of most transportation funds--mandated that regions reach agreements on a single plan.

The feds' instructions were straightforward: Establish a coordinating organization for transportation policy, ensure that it has representation from the participating local governments, and empower it to make transportation policy. The national government then provided both a stick (no transportation funds unless you play by our rules) and a carrot (we'll help pay for the planning).

In St. Louis, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments performs this function. By their very nature, most transportation projects are long-term (think the Vandeventer overpass, Page Avenue extension or cross-county MetroLink line). So the federal government wants 20-to-25-year plans rather than year-by-year efforts. As a consequence, every five years metropolitan areas must update their plans.

That's happening now in St. Louis. The existing plan, which goes to 2025, is being revised and extended to 2030. It must specify how the area would spend more than $15 billion, the amount (in 2007 dollars) that the region would receive if present funding levels were maintained. It also requires the region to settle upon a back-up list, what would be done if another $4-to-$5 billion became available.

There's no shortage of options involved. How much should be devoted to preserving the existing road and bridge infrastructure, should existing mass transit operations be maintained? how about a Mississippi River Bridge (price tag: more than $1.5 billion), should U.S. 40/Interstate 64 be enhanced from western St. Charles County to St. Clair County (about $1 billion for a complete overhaul)? and how many new light rail lines (at $500 to $700 million each) should be constructed?

All meaty stuff. These are issues that matter to most citizens, decisions that affect how the entire region develops, plans that actually determine how billions of dollars are spent. You would anticipate that the region's paper of record would be all over this story, covering the plan's evolution, outlining the staff recommendations (www.ewgateway. org), seeking reactions from major constituencies and reporting on the discussions about the plan in East-West Gateway Board of Directors (the most recent occurred Jan. 26).

But instead, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has hardly peeped. Other than a few brief notices announcing open houses that East-West Gateway would be holding on the plan between Feb. 15 and March 1--all of which appeared in zone editions and presumably were reactions to press releases from the council--the paper has ignored the matter. The Post continues to preach regionalism on its editorial page while ignoring many important regional policies in its news coverage.

An interesting subplot in the 2004 presidential election was the potential return of the prodigal younger voter. Between 1972 and 2000, the turnout rate among 18-to-29-year-olds dropped from 55 percent to 42 percent. More precipitous was the decline among 18-to-24-year-olds: from 50 percent in 1972 to 31 percent in 2000.

Early in 2004, hope for a turnaround was rising. A late February survey by Harvard University's Vanishing Voter Project found a sharp increase in campaign interest among young adults compared to 2000. The proportion following the campaign in the media had gone from 36 percent in 2000 to 49 percent in 2004, the percent saying they had discussed the campaign with somebody else during the last day went from 29 percent (2000) to 39 percent (2004), and 57 percent (compared to 33 percent in 2000) said that the election's outcome "would substantially affect the country's future." All these upticks were higher for younger adults than for older ones.

The spark in interest continued into the fall. Twenty-eight percent of young adults said they watched "all" or "most" of the first presidential debate, up sharply from the 8 percent who were that attentive in 2000. Another 30 percent observed "some" or "a little" of that debate, also considerably up from another 8 percent who had done so in 2000.

Then came Election Day and the exit polls. Yes, turnout was up across the board, but the increase among the 18-to-29 year olds apparently was no higher than that among older adults. The instant analysis then cited this as one of the reasons contributing to John Kerry's loss since part of the Democratic strategy was premised both on his doing well among young adults and having them constitute a larger share of the electorate.

Now the Vanishing Voter Project's later post-election survey demonstrates that young adults did indeed have a disproportionately high rise in turnout. Their rate went from 42 percent to 51 percent, a 21 percent hike, noticeably larger than that for the rest of the electorate. The apparent reason for the immediate misinterpretation was that the 18-to-29-year-olds were more likely to vote early, a point not immediately captured by exit polls.

More disturbing for electoral equity is the Vanishing Voter Project's finding about which young people are participating. It is largely confined to the college-educated, meaning that the turnout divide by socio-economic class is widening. More than ever, the American electorate speaks with an upper-middle-class accent.

Terry Jones is professor of political science at UM-St. Louis.
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Title Annotation:Politics & Media
Author:Jones, Terry
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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