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KCATA Again Pushing Light Rail, Big Consultants’ Fees
Once a staple of Kansas City commuting, a remaining streetcar sits on display behind Union Station.
Credit:  Michael McClure

Modern streetcars or light rail?

Maybe neither--if the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) gets its way and voters, once again, are asked to approve a sales tax increase to build and extend a light rail line.

Kansas City registered voters have voted down light rail proposals—from Clay Chastain or the KCATA/City Council—ten times in the last ten years, most recently last November.

Now KCATA and its million-dollar consulting firm, HNTB, see the emerging technology of modern streetcars as a way to get their foot in the door for yet another try at financing an expensive, costly-to-operate light rail plan.

Two weeks ago, KCTribune ran a story reporting how Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson was spearheading an effort to secure a federalgrant to build a two-mile Downtown streetcar starter line between the River Market and Union Station.

The entire cost, about $60 million, would be paid by the federal government under the TIGER program, part of the Obama economic stimulus program, and could later be extended. Sounds good! But then the story received a reader response which stated our story was misleading.

“Tell the whole story, Tom,” the anonymous commentator wrote.

“This is not a streetcar plan,” the commentator stated. “It is a light rail plan. This was admitted at a hearing. What’s the difference? Well, start with the fact that the rail and structure underneath it will cost far more than would a real streetcar system.

“Ultimately, the light rail advocates will want more miles of track which will demand more tax dollars,” the anonymous reader insisted. “At an average of over $90 million a mile, this is not about transportation, it is about HNTB and engineers getting 30 percent of the money.

“This proposed use of federal stimulus dollars is against the wishes of the voters who have voted 10 times against light rail,” the commentator wrote. “This is an end play. The KCTribune should report the whole story and not just what Bogdon wants. Remember this is not streetcars; it is light rail.”

Following receipt of these comments, this reporter sent an e-mail to Russ Johnson, chairman of the Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

“Russ, Is whoever wrote this right, or is the city ready to overrule the KCATA and HNTB? My understanding when I wrote the story was that you and other council members want modern streetcars. Period. Not light rail.

“Thanks, Tom.”

Russ Johnson replied:

“Tom, I do not support the extra cost and work to do light rail type infrastructure for streetcars. There are several technical reasons. The KCATA may view this differently, but in the end, it’s the City’s streets, not the KCATA’s. It is way too early to see whose views will win out. Russ.”

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond are closely monitoring Kansas City’s application for a TIGER grant under the Obama stimulus package.

The grant application deadline is Sept. 15.

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Comments 4 comments for this article
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Added: August 21, 2009. 08:57 PM CDT
A road bed is determined by
1.) weather and seasonal change
2.) The substrata beneath the proposed roadbed.
3.) The weight of the vehicles that will use the roadbed.

In Kansas City number (1) costs more than West coast applications, number (2) saves us money, but costs in original preparation. The Streetcar costs less in item three and will allow the use of existing bridges. The "real" Light rail cars require new bridges and greater depth of infrastructure.
Added: August 21, 2009. 01:29 PM CDT
Russ NAMBLA or is it MENSA member
Boring, who cares, no one wants it, I've deleted kctribune from my bookmarks because this is all you write about. So long
Jason Simmons
Added: August 21, 2009. 10:47 AM CDT
we don't argue like this about roads
when's the last time anyone argued about how deep a road bed should go? don't recall, because if you spend the money to build something right you won't have to turn around and redo it in 20 years. this actually applies to rail transit, whether people choose to believe it or not. just ask st. louis.

regardless, the definition of streetcar is how often they stop, not how deep the track bed is. and almost every transportation planner you meet considers streetcars light rail. you are getting way too caught up in the semantics, when **ANY** investment in KC transit should be welcomed.

unfortunately, the city has chosen to follow MARC's lead and put forward a mish-mash of ill-conceived proposals that include roads and "freight improvements" on US24. we've really missed an opportunity to get a decent chunk of a streetcar route paid for, as well as our entire bike/trail plan that would last a generation.
Added: August 21, 2009. 07:58 AM CDT
So what did Russ say exactly?
I hear that he is trying to get the right thing for Kansas City but it is too early to tell what that will be. Who is going to tell him what is right for Kansas City?
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