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A message for transportation advocates

We recorded the above message for advocates with Dan Johnson-Weinberger, a lobbyist for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, at their annual meeting over the weekend. Dan's message is basically to keep it local by talking to your local elected officials first (mayor, council, aldermen), then having them talk to their state and federal counterparts.

While Sens. Bond or Brownback may not take a personal call from you, they will take one from your mayor.

Feel free to pass the message on to others.

A perfect example of this groundswell is the recent success in Kansas. Bipartisan majorities supported a bill that enables (but does not fund) state-sponsored passenger rail service in the state… something that, until recently, was widely touted as forbidden by the state's constitution. Grassroots advocates sought resolutions of support from every city council along the proposed route, encouraging their legislators to act.


KDOT, Amtrak release passenger rail study

The Kansas Department of Transportation and Amtrak released a feasibility study today outlining costs and ridership potential for a new state-sponsored passenger rail route between Kansas City and Fort Worth.

Four alternatives were studied, daytime and nighttime, each with varying price tags and connections to existing Amtrak services. The clear winner is Alternative 3 — a daytime train that provides a direct, 12-hour trip between Fort Worth and Kansas City — but the Kansas Legislature must decide which option to advance for state and federal funding. Alternative 3 has the highest ridership (174,000) and highest capital cost ($479 million).

Any option terminating in KC would use Amtrak's existing facility at Union Station. Station stops include Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, Wichita, and Oklahoma City.

The chosen option will need to win political and financial support from Oklahoma and Texas, which will also benefit from the additional service.

Annual operating costs for all four options range from $3.2 to $8 million. Missouri currently pays Amtrak $8 million to operate two round-trips between KC and St. Louis. Oklahoma and Texas share the $2 million cost of one daily round-trip between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

This week also marked the first official legislative approval for the effort: SB 409, authorizing KDOT to enter into passenger rail agreements, was approved by both chambers and is on it's way to Gov. Mark Parkinson for signature.

The Lawrence Journal-World has the best recap of today's press conference. History of this effort can be found at northflyer.org/.

UPDATE: We also have comments about the study from Northern Flyer Alliance President Deborah Fischer-Stout about the study.


Live-tweeting the TIGER press conference

We'll be covering the follow-up TIGER press conference in Mission tomorrow at 10 a.m. Follow us at http://twitter.com/kclightrail. Local officials from Johnson and Wyandotte counties — recipients of most of the transit portion of the TIGER grant — will hopefully provide more detail on when improvements will begin and whether there will be operational support for expanded bus service along the Metcalf and State corridors.

There's also a major press conference in Topeka on Thursday to unveil the Amtrak feasibility study for passenger rail service in Kansas. We'll be at KDOT headquarters covering that event as well.

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Round-up: This week in local transit

  • Kansas City's Hail Mary pass (Prime Buzz)
  • ATA plans to cut some service from Wyandotte to Johnson counties (Kansas City Star)
  • Audio ads will soon debut on buses (Kansas City Star)
  • Upgrades coming for North Oak Trafficway (Kansas City Star)
  • Sen. Bond secures $2 million for KCATA bus replacement (scroll to bottom of article) (RealEstateRama)
  • UG holding special meeting Monday (Kansas City Kansan)
  • Transportation Outlook 2040 Call for Projects (MARC)
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State Avenue BRT recap

State Avenue BRT Map

The only city in Kansas with Sunday bus service is about make another serious move. This time it's a KCK version of the MAX running down State Avenue from downtown KCMO to Village West.

The message at last night's public meeting was mixed: the route, frequency, and technology has basically been selected, but no funding mechanism exists to operate the service. The Unified Government has posted a survey for you to weigh in on whether transit should be included on a November sales tax election.

The operational funding question must be answered before KCK can apply for federal funding to cover capital costs. Currently, the city's transit services (a mix of fixed and circulator routes that serve over a million rides annually) are funded directly from the city's coffers. As with all municipalities, cuts are expected this year as a result of the economic downturn.

Transit has ranked high on KCK resident surveys in the past [PDF, see p. 4], so chances are good that any sales tax dedicated to it will pass.

The proposed route is served daily by #101 today. The BRT route is straighter (no loop at KCK Community College) and bypasses the West Bottoms in favor of the Intercity Viaduct (I-70); the Bottoms would continue to be served by local KCK routes. New transit centers would be built at 7th & Minnesota in downtown KCK, Indian Springs Shopping Center, and Village West.

The State Avenue BRT project is part of the regional SmartMoves transit program. The first line on Main Street in KCMO opened in 2005, the second line on Troost Avenue is slated to open in 2010.

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State Avenue BRT meeting tomorrow

Three questions beg your input at tomorrow's State Avenue BRT meeting in KCK. We offer reasonable expectations for those who plan to attend.

Where would it run?

Preferably on State Avenue, eh? Unfortunately, the top benefit of a bus is also it's worst enemy: they can go anywhere there are streets. But should they be shoehorned into door-to-door service at the cost of ease of use and visibility? Does simplicity ever trump convenience in bus routing? Not really in KC due to our erratic development patterns.

Regardless, expect ridership estimates to drive route diversions like those made along Main and Troost, although the proposed alignment appears fairly straightforward.

What will it look like?

What you will get: the "BRT lite" imprint established by the Main and Troost BRT lines (normal 40-foot buses, limited traffic signal priority, real-time arrival at most stations, and frequent service.

What you won't get: "light rail on wheels", as is frequently promised (off-board ticketing, level boarding, a comfortable ride, any capacity improvement over an existing bus); more than a 10-20% improvement over the current hour-long travel time (although the current claim is 30 minutes from KCK to Village West). Due to the light traffic loads on the sprawling western portions of State or Parallel Parkway, don't expect dedicated lanes outside of downtown KCK.

How would it be paid for?

Establishing frequent service that people can depend on requires a dedicated operational funding mechanism that can't be raided by elected officials when times get tough (here's why). Limited capital funding ($10 million) is being sought at part of MARC's TIGER stimulus proposal. Total cost is estimated at as much as $35 million for the entire route. Residents should encourage the city to require the purchase of hybrid or natural gas buses, which could offset the impact of increased frequencies.

Meeting details:

4:30 to 6 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009
Eisenhower Rooms A & B
Hilton Garden Inn
520 Minnesota Ave.

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