TransitKC

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Round-up: This week in peripheral transit issues

We’re not touching the Clay Chastain story this time until the city’s attorneys vet his plan before he starts collecting signatures.

Federal Surface Transportation Bill – Rep. Oberstar continues to pledge on-time delivery and passage of the “son of SAFETEA-LU“. Even though it will cover all surface modes — light rail, passenger rail, etc… not just highways — transportation planners continue to ask for lop-sided amounts for highway spending, even though VMT continues to decline.

High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail – Expect interim improvements over many years to get consistent speeds (79 mph) and reliability before we ever get bullet trains (150+ mph) to St. Louis. Regardless, it’s door-to-door trip time, reliability, and frequency that count (not train speed). UPDATE: A new siding in California, MO, broke ground today.

KCATA Rescue – Not gonna happen, unless the Obama administration slaps down the state legislature’s effort to use stimulus funds as tax refunds (we call it the South Carolina Reach-Around). Fare hike took effect March 1, service cuts begin June 28 (just in time for Ozone Days). Thanks again, Wayne!

Imagine KC – If you missed the live broadcast last week of the KCPT special that included lots of transit talk (and neat videos), you can catch up on it here.

Pedestian/Bicycle Counts – Would you believe it if we told you that Kansas City has never counted pedestrians or bicyclists anywhere for any reason? Well, it’s unfortunately very true. A trial count was held last week with formal participation in a nationwide count coming this fall.

Missouri River Crossing – It’s also quite unfortunate that there is no safe river crossing for pedestrians or bicyclists, especially with anemic off-peak bus service as the only non-car option. Thankfully, stimulus funding to the rescue! MoDOT is accelerating plans to rehab the Heart of America bridge with a bike path.

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Legislature ponies up $5m for ATA

According to breaking news from The Star, about half of the ATA’s deficit for the year. St. Louis would get $20 million, about half of their deficit.

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State rescue for ATA shortfall "possible"

Prime Buzz notes that state funding to prevent looming service cuts in KC is “possible”, but not “probable.” Why our legislature continues to view every issue with a city vs. rural lens is beyond us. Last we checked, the rural cats were still pretty fat.

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Commuter rail planning gets serious

After a lot of budget distractions and hand-wringing about oversight, county leaders are seemingly serious about at least the option of commuter rail in the metro.

Commuter rail has already been studied along all of these routes (probably more than once), but we have new players and new players need new data to take to voters. The 2002 MARC study [PDF] looked seriously at three trains each way daily on two existing rail corridors on the Missouri side: Kansas City Southern‘s KC-Odessa line and Union Pacific‘s KC-Pleasant Hill line (the latter already carries Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner trains). That study also recommended that Union Station become the “center city terminal”. Kansas City Southern has been the most vocal about the commuter rail concept on their tracks. Union Pacific, on the other hand, usually plays hardball and is well-known as one of the least friendly railroads to passenger rail.

The BNSF line between KC and Topeka was also considered in the 2002 study, but obviously will not be part of the Missouri-only regional discussion. That route, which currently carries Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, is being studied by KDOT for expanded inter-city service to Wichita and beyond.

So how can commuter rail work in KC since the jobs are dispersed everywhere? Recent studies indicate that downtown loop’s share of metro jobs is around 10% and it’s about a mile from Union Station. A light rail starter line between Plaza (the other hot job spot) and the River Market (perhaps even North Kansas City) would distribute a lot more people more efficiently if they arrive at Union Station and need to make one last connection.

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KCATA pleads case for emergency funding

The KCATA and St. Louis Metro transit systems asked a Missouri House committee yesterday for emergency funding to prevent impending service cuts.

KCATA is asking for $14 million to cover shortfalls from reduced sales tax revenues and diversion of transit funds to other uses — all in the face of increased ridership and a recently-enacted fare increase.

The article references a “Ken Kohler”, but we’re pretty sure that it was KCATA’s Mark Huffer doing the legwork at the Capitol, according to information we received from Jeff City.

UPDATE: The article has been corrected and a commenter has confirmed that Bob Kohler was representing KCATA this week in Jefferson City. Also, the request is double the amount of this year’s shortfall, so we’re assuming the $14 million will cover two years of operating assistance, which is in line with most stimulus timelines.

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Could the state save us from the cuts?

St. Louis beats us to the punch again. Short on operating funds? Ask the state government who sits at the bottom of the list for state support of local transit. While Missouri has a shortfall like everyone else, it’s possible that money allocated from the stimulus package could free up some operating support (it would save jobs and continue getting people to jobs, after all).

City Manager Wayne Cauthen — the source of the recommendation for most of KCATA’s funding cut — should contact KC’s state delegation immediately to determine the feasibility of such a request.

Meanwhile, here’s a confirmation from our new US DOT secretary that agencies should not expect operating support directly from the feds.

UPDATE: Response from State Senator Jolie Justus… “The KCATA just made a direct request for stimulus dollars from the state. The KCATA general manager was down here today lobbying for support. I’m hoping both cities will have their requests granted.”

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I-70 options actually include transit

The highway mavens at MoDOT will be gracing KC with their presence today as options for rebuilding a stretch of I-70 through the city get a public review. Let’s Go KC has the details.

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Your government: "We don't actually care about transit, SRSLY."

It’s all here in black-and-white on the US Conference of Mayors website. A laundry list of infrastructure projects and not one of them has anything to do with public transportation. Lots of crap for the KCI and Water Services, however. Thanks, Kansas City!

And do you think this is unique to the municipal level? Nah. MoDOT’s big wish list has a request for 200 buses (likely to be shared between the 6 or 7 agencies state-wide), but the total ask is twice as big as what’s expected from the economic stimulus. We’re guessing the buses get cut first in favor of roads and bridge. Thanks, Missouri!

Our only hope is that the next transportation funding bill levels the playing field so that all modes are competitive and get the same federal match. Gas taxes are going to need to rise — as will transit fares — so get ready for that eventuality. This, of course, requires an improvement in the sloth-like pace of county leaders who thought things were moving to fast… and by too fast we mean two years.

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Other KC transit developments

With our singular focus on the starter line election, we’ve neglected several non-light-rail transit initiatives that have had some successes:

Bike/Ped:

Mass transit:

Inter-city:

Please consider transit alternatives if you must travel this Thanksgiving. Fatalities always spike over the holidays due to longer travel distances and increased congestion. Kansas City is served by Amtrak at Union Station, Megabus at 10th & Main, Greyhound and Jefferson Lines at 11th and Troost, and all major domestic airlines at KCI (all services offer last-minute online ticketing). Frequent MAX service is available for the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.

We’ll return on Dec. 1.

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Let's start paying attention to county commission elections!

Now that the baton has been unofficially passed to the tri-county regional planning effort, it’s time to start checking in on exactly who is going to be pulling the strings for you in Platte, Clay, and Jackson county governments — because, let’s face it, you normally don’t care because the counties don’t fund transit at all today and these electeds are all transit newbies (Yes, Virginia… there is a SmartMoves!).

Today’s Star article hints around at who the leaders and nay-sayers are. We’ll be watching these developments closely — and praying that these stories get transferred to the transportation beat — but the good news is that there is consensus on developing a plan that will pass (you know, with ridership and stuff).

We are already raising a red flag about Platte County — home of KCI, Zona Rosa, a water tower… and what else? — which is struggling with the fact they are by far the least populated of the three counties (85K?) yet are expecting equal coverage. We kid because we love!

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