KC Light Rail

Your source for news and information on Kansas City’s light rail progress

Archive for January, 2007

The Star Profiles KC Commuters

Was it more than just gas prices that turned Kansas Citians on to the potential for serious mass transit? The Star reports on the local commuting scene and allows several commuters to share their stories in their own words. Some choice cuts:

On average in Greater Kansas City, roughly a third of the commute to work and home is now congested, up from about 20 percent 10 years ago, according to a study by a transportation agency in Texas.

The clearest signal yet from Kansas City commuters that they have reached a tipping point may have been the November election. Kansas City voters approved a tax to build a 27-mile light-rail system — after rejecting the project a half dozen times.

…Kansas Citians have been slow to embrace mass transit, car pooling and other alternate forms of commuting. A study in 2002 showed that during evening traffic in the metro area, cars averaged fewer than 1.2 people, down from 1.3 in 1990.

With the population shift to the suburbs, our work commutes are not only longer, but we’re also grabbing the car keys more often for trips to the grocery store and restaurants, and we “outsource” more home chores, such as lawn care, meaning more service trucks on the road.

“Our traffic is growing at three times the rate of our population.”

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Letters, We’ve Got Letters…

Not us — we don't believe in the USPS – but the Kansas City Star does get an occasional letter about light rail. Conveniently, you can click here to see all letters related to transit in one place, regardless of the submission date.

If you found the previous post interesting at all, there is another mayoral forum tonight. Light rail is sure to be a topic since the Northland helped carry the vote and about 18 of the 27-mile route is north of the river.


Question #3: Light Rail

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce published interviews with 10 of the 11 prospective mayoral candidates this week. Deferred capital maintenance, economic development, health care… and, of course, light rail. Here are the full responses on light rail from each candidate:

  • Katheryn Shields: I have been an advocate of light rail for over 20 years. With federal funding — which may be more available in the near future — light rail can be a great economic development tool as well as an environmental boon. The citizens have told City government that they are tired of being told "it can't be done". The Chastain Plan is unworkable in its present form, but that means we need to present a better light rail alternative. If we build it, they will ride!
  • Becky Nace: Flexibility in the plan passed by the voters is needed to accomplish our shared goal of reducing vehicular traffic and building a light rail system that supports regional transit. I have presented a funding plan for light rail that includes a minimum 50% federal match which I will aggressively pursue. My plan would ask voters in the counties of Jackson, Wyandotte, Johnson, Clay, Cass and Platte to invest in a central hub at Union Station. Additionally, it would allow each county to fund access to the main hub as they see fit and dedicate county funding to their line exclusively.
  • Henry Klein: We must fund sensible light rail and keep the bus system running at or above today's capacity. Light rail can be funded by: a) Looking at it as a development tool and using development tool funding (similar to TIF) – estimate the additional dollars coming to the city in new development, plus the additional tax revenues once light rail is running, and allocate these to the system's cost, b) Work with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver to secure federal dollars, or c) Determine the funding we need from ridership and make certain we sufficiently encourage ridership once the lines are built.
  • Jim Glover: I favor the development of a balanced transportation system. That would include commuter rail, a park-and-ride program and an improved bus system, as well as light rail. The sales tax will generate about $23 million a year. That's enough to get started on a phased and balanced plan. The Chastain plan presents hurdles, including the future of Penn Valley Park and Broadway, and voters would have to approve any changes in the Chastain plan. But I expect that with proper professional planning, we can compete for federal funds that will help us develop a balanced transportation system.
  • Stanford Glazer: It is my understanding that the 3/8-cent sales tax is currently going to the ATA system. We need to find money so that ATA does not lose funding. Federal matching funds have been restricted, requiring density quotas and current rights-of-way. Those may negatively influence our application. However, we can lobby our representatives. There is a renewed interest by citizens in reducing our dependence upon foreign oil and light rail would help do that. Maybe phase one of light rail should go from Union Station to KCI Airport, expanding upon successes there to eventually get to what the voters desired in the recent election.
  • Mark Funkhouser: A regionally funded multi-modal transit system is vital for the City. The light rail system should be integrated into a regional system that includes buses and heavy rail. We would support a regional ballot measure including a dedicated tax for public transit. We need a system that allows our folks to get to jobs in Johnson County and elsewhere; allows our neighbors from Johnson County as well as Lee's Summit, Blue Springs and the larger region to travel throughout the City; and that permits everybody to easily access our stadiums, the airport, our business districts and neighborhoods.
  • John Fairfield: We must implement a light rail plan, however the funding identified is inadequate. We must create a smart plan which will obtain the maximum amount of federal match, have a realistic budget, and go back to the voters. I favor a first phase which would loop from the Riverfront to Union Station and back connected to a commuter rail system to Blue Springs/Grain Valley. The remaining available funds should connect that system to the Plaza and the Northland. We must replace the 40% lost ATA funding, as the bus system will need to feed the light rail.
  • Janice S. Ellis: In spite of flaws in the light rail plan recently approved by voters, I believe that Kansas City can achieve a better, multimodal transit system. The integrity of the approved plan must be examined from several perspectives: engineering, legislative, cost, integration of the current KCATA /SmartMoves services (particularly since those services impact some of our city's most vulnerable citizens), and an implementation timeline. Federal dollars are available for starter lines, and as mayor, I will aggressively lobby Congress to secure monies for Kansas City. A regional transit tax is also a viable option for fully funding a region-wide multimodal system.
  • Charles A. "Chuck" Eddy: The voters have spoken, but it is clear that what they want is light rail, not a crippling of our current bus system or the closing of parkways and boulevards. I will proceed in working with the regional transportation efforts that will bring funded light rail more quickly while upgrading the bus system with more Max bus- or electric-type [if available] improvements as feeders and outer spines. I will pursue available Federal and state support that is dedicated to such improvements. My experience with MARC's regional transportation efforts provide experience unavailable from other candidates.
  • Alvin Brooks: I favor light rail in Kansas City and view the vote last November as an opportunity to improve public transit in our city. However, we cannot have light rail without federal funding. I will bring together a group of public officials and private interests to organize and implement a strategy to lobby Washington and Jefferson City for needed funding to build a light rail system. I am concerned that the 3/8 cent sales tax voters approved for light rail is currently used to help fund our local bus system. We cannot leave people behind who rely on the bus system to get to work, go to the doctor and shop.

The primary election is Feb. 27, which will narrow the field down to the two top candidates. General election is Mar. 27. How does light rail rank for you as an issue in this election?

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What TOD Can Do To An Intersection

Been to Charlotte lately? Their $426.8 million light rail line is under construction and has spawned a revised, pedestrian-friendly intersection near a proposed station. What was once a place where people were not welcome without their cars is now a smarter design that welcomes all modes of transit. Service starts this year in this metro area of 1.5 million. Of course, every large civic project has its detractors… Charlotte's can be found here.


Subsides For Public Transit

Many people think the word "subsidy" is dirty. After all, government subsidies come from your taxes and are paid out to other people.

An example of this is the KCATA - only about 1/5 of the ATA's $40.5 million budget is funded by fares collected from passengers. The other 80% is made up of money coming from several sources, mostly your tax dollars.

Many say public transportation should be more self-sufficient. This doesn't stop many drivers from complaining about traffic congestion or rough and dangerous roads, which are also paid for by your taxes. While the government doesn't pay for your gas or vehicle upkeep as is done for public transit, highways and interchanges are very expensive.

Tom Hoenig, an economist and president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, had this to say in a recent Kansas City Star article.

Hoenig also pointed out that building additional highway miles around the metro for cars and trucks isn't cheap, noting that the recent Grandview Triangle reconstruction project cost about $220 million, and $165 million is being spent currently to widen Interstate 435 in Overland Park.

"People say light rail is a subsidy. But I watched the Grandview Triangle, and the amount of money spent redesigning it gives you a sense of the cost of maintaining a highway system as well," he said. "Light rail would relieve some of that and also provide cleaner air."

Is it right for Kansas City to fund road-building so much more then other kinds of transit?

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