Will Kansas City continue to push for expansion of its streetcar project? Probably, but not for a while, The Kansas City Business Journal reported on Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, voters in part of the city’s urban core soundly rejected a proposal that would have created a taxing district to advance plans to add 7.8 miles, at a cost of more than $500 million, to the city’s under-construction $114 million, 2.2-mile Main Street streetcar line. It’s a serious setback for the ambitious economic development and transportation project, wrote Business Journal reporter Austin Alonzo.
The Business Journal continued:
On Wednesday, Mayor Sly James issued a statement that said he was disappointed with the results.
“Voters told us that they want to see a balance between taking care of the basics and being ambitious. I still strongly believe in rail as a conduit for economic development, but I understand where voters are coming from,” James said in the statement. “The downtown starter line is a success, and it remains our intention to ensure that the starter line is just that — a start. Now we’ll get to work re-envisioning how we can prudently expand economic development related to transit.”
So does that mean the city is putting off expansion plans for now?
During a Wednesday morning public radio appearance, James said the city will continue to look for a way to make expansion happen. He argued that if the city stops the streetcar program, it will fall behind peer cities.
Joni Wickham, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said it’s too early for the city to share concrete plans going forward. Doug Stone, a Husch Blackwell LLP attorney working for Kansas City, said he did not know of any firm plans.
Others involved in the streetcar project indicated that the plan may be to wait until the starter line is complete before picking up the expansion issue again.
Steve Glorioso, a Kansas City political operative who helped lead the campaign to extend the streetcar, said things will be different once the 2.2-mile line is up and running. The downtown streetcar, which will run from the River Market to Union Station, is expected to be operational in late 2015 or early 2016.
Tom Trabon, chairman of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority Inc., echoed that sentiment. Missouri is the Show-Me State, and residents of Kansas City need to see the streetcar in action before they can be convinced of its merits. After that, he said, they will support running it elsewhere in the city as has happened in other cities that built rail-based transit systems.
How soon would that vote happen? Councilman Ed Ford said he doesn’t think the city will take up the issue again until 2016. He said civic elections in the spring of 2015 — which will replace at least six members of the City Council and possibly the mayor — and the extension of the Kansas City earnings tax probably will take priority over streetcar expansion.
Ford also said it’s unlikely the city will seek to use the Clay Chastain ballot question as a way to raise money for the streetcar. Chastain is a longtime proponent of a large, public transportation system that includes rail-based transit.
“I don’t think anyone connected with the city is going to encourage anyone to vote yes on it,” Ford said of the Chastain question that will be on the November ballot. “I can’t imagine us going back to the voters so soon on streetcars after it got pretty thoroughly trounced (Tuesday).”