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The Mission Effect

Tidy first-tier suburb Mission made big news this week by passing a Transportation Utility Fee that focuses local taxation on infrastructure impact instead of assessed value.

By assessing fees based on the amount of car trips generated by each parcel — and, hence, the wear and tear on local roads — Mission has fired the first, tangible warning shot that Kansas City’s sprawling days may be numbered. While other cities fiddle with form-based codes, climate protection plans, and a lot of greenwashing, Mission’s new taxation method is binding and very real.

Comparing a McDonald’s (2,700 trips per day) and a single-family home of equal lot size (9.5 trips per day), the one with drive thru service pays much more. Even churches and schools will pay the fee.

The most interesting beneficiary of this new approach will be the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway bus rapid transit route, currently in planning stages. Mission’s contribution will now be a stable $1.2 million per year, far more reliable than sales or property taxes (both of which are down everywhere, with “down” being “the new normal”).

Connecting Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, existing (Main) and new (Troost) BRT routes, Metcalf BRT will be another thread that stitches together a functional, regional transit system one line at a time.

SmartMoves is actually playing out slowly and without much drama, instead of the typical big splash (or public vote) of a major transit proposal. Overland Park has yet to decide how they will fund their portion of the BRT service.

This move is not the penultimate step towards an urban growth boundary — which is what naysayers of smart growth fear most, yet unlikely to ever occur — but a very practical solution for an aging population and a shrinking tax base in a land-locked city.

Mission officials and residents (whose property tax bills will be lower, as a result) should be commended for their innovation and leadership.

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July 20 meeting to discuss Metcalf/SMP transit

The Star reports that Overland Park, Mission, and Johnson County Transit will host a public meeting from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20, to discuss transit along Metcalf Avenue and Shawnee Mission Parkway.

Those two streets will eventually be served by something resembling “lite” Bus Rapid Transit, like KCATA’s MAX on Main and (soon-to-be) Troost. The corridor recently got a boost as part of a $50 million TIGER grant, which will also benefit the State Avenue corridor in Kansas City, Kansas. All routes are part of MARC’s SmartMoves Urban Corridors plan.

The JO has yet to ask for a dedicated funding mechanism, instead relying on the good graces of the Johnson County Commission to dole out whatever annual subsidy they see fit — although that amount has grown in recent years.

Coincidentally, US DOT is seeking a third round of TIGER funding for next year. Let’s hope the metro creates more compelling applications that will encourage more elected officials in Kansas to make transit funding a real priority.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.
[map]

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Attention WyCo residents: Ask for a transit sales tax!

Tonight, the commissioners and mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, will discuss sales tax options that may be placed on the ballot to address budget shortages. KCK does not have dedicated transit funding like KCMO, and will be experiencing service cuts this year while simultaneously asking for federal capital funding for the State Avenue BRT line.

This is your chance to ask the mayor and commissioners to consider a 1/8- or 1/4-cent sales tax to be dedicated to bus services, eliminating entirely the annual line item that comes from the general fund (which is subject to the whims of the mayor/commission). This sales tax could be used to cover and expand existing routes, as well as the operation of BRT.

Sales Tax Hearing
5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 6
KCK City Hall
701 N. 7th Street
[map]

City Hall is accessible from routes 101, 102, 103, 104, 106, 107, and 115. See Google Transit for a trip plan.

A public meeting to discuss this year’s recommended service cuts is also this evening:

4-6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 6
Indian Springs Shopping Center, Community Room
4601 State Ave.
[map]

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MARC Transportation Committee recap

The following condensed transit updates are from the MARC Transportation Committee July meeting:

  • SmartMoves – Two phases underway: urban corridors (with a bi-state application for a TIGER stimulus grant) and commuter corridors; consultants have been selected for each. Phase 1 deadline of Sept. 12th and the second phase has no deadline at this time.
  • Transportation Outlook 2040 – Project solicitation for the long-range transportation plan is in progress. A high speed rail section will be added.
  • Unified Government Transit – UG Transit does not have funds to make it through the rest of the year (service cuts may occur in October); next year will also be difficult for funding.
  • KCATA – Service cuts implemented June 28; additional cuts may be needed.
  • Johnson County Transit – First phase of the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway BRT study (also a SmartMoves corridor) is near completion and phase 2 will start soon; action from the Kansas legislature is required in order to run the service in this corridor and the northern terminus has been determined to be the Plaza (instead of downtown, the terminus for most JO services today). Fifty-five new JO bus stop signs will be installed in downtown Kansas City (where none exist today) via an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the KCATA.

The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 5 at MARC offices, 600 Broadway, in downtown Kansas City.

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