KC Light Rail

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

Archive for September, 2007

St. Louis planning north/south expansion

St. Louis' Metro and MoDOT have entered the final planning stages for a new north/south expansion corridor study, which may end up being a light rail line running in or along city streets. The existing light rail line runs east and west in abandoned railroad right-of-way, with a new spur to Clayton and I-44 that opened up late last year. Kansas City's HNTB is the project manager for the study. Funding is "made possible from the sale of Transportation Development Tax Credits from the State of Missouri" which "can only be applied to transportation improvements in areas defined as Distressed Communities under Missouri law."


FTA proposes funding toll lanes with mass transit dollars

Thanks to The Overhead Wire, we were alerted to a proposed change the Federal Transit Administration wants to make to New and Small Starts rules that would allow fixed guideway funding to be used for High Occupancy Toll lanes on highways. Yeah, highways. And even if you could claim this was a good idea, there is already funding for HOT lanes available through the Federal Highway Administration (and if you follow mass transit you know that the highway funding bucket is much larger). This change could directly affect Kansas City's chances for matching federal funds for light rail. Contact your senators and US representatives to tell them that you oppose this change!


Light Rail Trip Report: Charlotte

Everyone in transit is watching Charlotte right now. Why? They're in political hot water as scorching as KC when it comes to light rail. The mayor's job is at stake. Voters might repeal a decade-old transit tax due to cost overruns. The transit agency is racing to open up their starter line before election day. What better time to visit and see how things are progressing?

Our visit was not just to see light rail, but we jumped at the opportunity to see the new LYNX Blue Line on test runs in advance of the November opening. Only one hour before leaving town, we stumbled onto a great pizza place near the tracks and — lo and behold! — the crossing gates came down and it appeared in a flash, barely enough time to snap the pictures below. Each LRV must go through 1,000 miles of testing before humans can ride.

LYNX Test 1
LYNX Test 2

Charlotte's new light rail line will run partially in an old rail bed (similar to St. Louis Metrolink) along South Boulevard, and will incorporate the vintage South End trolley and a new inter-modal station that will serve local and intercity buses, as well as intercity and commuter trains (North Carolina also has state-sponsored Amtrak service; commuter rail is in the planning stages). Modern streetcars and BRT are also under evaluation.

Gateway Station

The project was attacked from several angles, primarily because of the oft-cited "low density" argument. Significant cost overruns, however, vaulted light rail back into the spotlight and resulted in a punitive petition initiative to repeal a half-cent sales tax that currently supports the entire mass transit system (including buses). Transit leaders have not specified how service will be affected should the tax be repealed, but they have confirmed that light rail will begin operation, regardless of the outcome, on November 26. Polling shows the vote could go either way. We caught one vote of support in a downtown window, below.

Vote Against Repeal

Even though people say "Kansas City doesn't need light rail", rest assured our struggle with the issue is in no way unique, especially as other mid-sized peer cities attempt to tackle environmental concerns versus simply connecting people with jobs. Charlotte is the best example we have right now of what the fight will be like in February.


How were the preliminary routes determined?

By Mark Forsythe
The Kansas City Post

Most of this is speculation and deduction based on what I was told last night. Here is a very rough sketch of how the preliminary routes were determined. And keep in mind even the "preliminary" is preliminary at this point! Nothing is set in stone.

First, the most important constraint of the project is financial. Using the conservative estimates of sales tax generated revenue and optimistic estimates of federal matching and construction costs, it was determined that a realistic starter line can only span about 12 miles. That's just a starter line. No gondolas or electric buses.

The next most important constraint is the desire of the taxpayers. The many good people who took time out of their day to come to one of the open meetings scattered dots all over the map showing where they thought light rail stops had to go and where potentially they should go in the future. As you might guess, the locations of those stations were as diverse as the people who participated.

The final constraint is political. Any alternate plan put forth has to pass at the ballot box. Technically it may be the best light rail plan ever but if it fails to impress at least 50.1% of the voters in February it's a moot point.

Soooo…. One route of course started at KCI and pretty much followed the I-29 corridor, down through the Rivermarket and terminated downtown. Another started at the Truman Sports Complex, followed the existing Rock Island Railroad right-of-way up along the Little Blue River before heading west down Linwood. I believe it picked its way through Hospital Hill, Crown Center, downtown and then terminated just north of the river. A third route's prominent feature was a path right down the middle of the Bruce R. Watkins which I also liked. One came down through NKC and pretty much ran Main St to about the Plaza. Another did the same except it went farther south? As you can tell my memory is already failing me. I will post electronic images as soon as they're available.

One question I asked that people consistently seem to overlook is the location of the maintenance facilities. Dick Jarrold with the ATA spent a long time with me detailing the possibility of using land at our City water treatment facility. The immediate advantage that I could see was the City already owns the land so acquisition costs would be zip. Maybe some legal maneuvering on paper would be required because technically the Water Department is a revenue bonded organization but nothing insurmountable. It's easily accessible and best of all we could use it as a "soft match" for federal funding. You have to come up with your own bucks to get federal funding. One of the ways to do this is to offer the fair market value of right-of-way or land for maintenance facilities as your "soft match." I jokingly told Dick we should get some aggressive appraisers up there right now!


Light Rail Project Team Meeting: First signs of progress

By Mark Forsythe
The Kansas City Post

The Light Rail Citizens' Task Force received a short-notice invitation to attend a team meeting at HNTB. Scheduled from 4-6PM the invitation was vague in that it offered us the chance to observe the consultant team assimilating the data from the first public input meetings held a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it was the wording of the invitation but turnout from the Task Force was sparse. I was there until about 5:40PM and would estimate ten team members at the most were present.

The meeting turned out to be a golden opportunity to go over six preliminary alternative routes alongside the one approved by voters last November. There was no observing. The meeting was a hands-on chance for the Task Force to look over the preliminary routes that have been formulated from data resulting from the breakout sessions at the public meetings and discuss implications of each with consultant team members. We had ample time to ask questions of key team members and no topic was off limits. I took full advantage of the opportunity.

I was in rapid fire mode jumping from topic to topic. Where will the maintenance facility go? Isn't that area a flood plain? How many stops would be on that route? What are fixed-cost percentages versus incremental costs? How much does a two-car articulated LRV cost? What are the land acquisition challenges along that route? And those were just some of my questions.

In the end I have to say I was very impressed with the six potential routes. The team has paid attention to what the public is telling them and is proceeding with a design that is within the very real financial constraints that exist. While not 27 mile systems covering the entire metro (each proposed route is about a 12 mile starter line) they are very realistic and practical alternatives.

If anyone would like me to expound on any of my questions, or talk about the starter lines please leave a Comment and I'll do my best to write another post and answer your questions.


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