Sunday, September 7, 2008
Two Plans for Light Rail
One Makes Sense . . . Three metropolitan area political leaders have stepped forward to bring some sense to the light rail question. Clay County Presiding Commissioner Ed Quick, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, and Platte County Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight have proposed a commuter rail plan that would serve all of the communities in Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties.Their plan calls for the use of existing rail lines to provide commuter rail service. Commuter trains are lighter than regular rail cars and much less expensive to maintain. The commuter service would make use of existing rail right of way. The rail bed is already established and, in some areas, serviceable rail tracks are still in place. Since commuter trains use the same gauge tracks as regular rail stock, a huge savings in construction and land acquisition costs can be anticipated. Existing rail lines pass through most suburban communities. In eastern Jackson County, communities like Raytown, Grandview, Lee’s Summit, and Independence, all have downtowns intersected by rail lines. The setting is perfect for the creation of pedestrian depots. The increased commuter traffic is seen as a possible catalyst to spur economic development in suburban downtown areas. Another possibility is the use of land adjacent to commuter lines for development of walking and bicycle trails. Such trails have been developed across the nation and have proven to be popular with the local populations. One Does Not . . . On November 4th, Kansas City voters will decide whether or not to move forward on a sales tax increase crafted by the Mayor Mark Funkhouser and the Kansas City, Missouri City Council for development of light rail. The revenue created from the tax increase -- an estimated $1.1 billion dollars -- would be used to construct only 14 miles of one light rail line in Kansas City. Though strictly a Kansas City ballot issue (Raytown voters will not be allowed to vote on the tax increase), Raytown Mayor David Bower signed up early on to help take Funkhouser’s message to the public. Critics complain that proponents of the Kansas City light rail package have not done their homework. For instance, a proposed light rail route along Troost Avenue had to be scrapped when it became clear that the route would nullify a million dollar federal grant already in place by the Area Transportation Authority. The “Kansas City Only” plan has been described as “rash and hasty”. It has been cobbled together too quickly with little forethought of how it can be expanded to area communities. The $1.1 billion dollar price tag is outrageous for only 14 miles of track. What is worse, the sales tax increase to pay for this folly would push the Kansas City sales tax rate very near the 10% mark. Quick, Sanders and Knight are on the right track with their plan. They have asked everyone to slow down and allow them time to work out details and explore ways to gain access to federal and state funding. The plan is in its developmental stage, but it should be noted that talks have taken place between rail and county officials. Kansas City votes should vote “No” on the light rail sales tax increase on November 4th. There is a better plan in the making – one that will benefit more people at a lower cost.