TransitKC

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County’s transit plan becomes clearer

Last week saw a third set of open houses to narrow alternatives for two transit corridors being studied in Jackson County — East (I-70) and Southeast (Rock Island/MO-350). There isn’t a lot of good news for fans of the original Sanders plan, but there are still some very real opportunities.

First, the bad news: A 1% countywide sales tax only generates $80 million annually. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t much when you’ve got two $500 million rail lines you want to build and operate. Selecting alternatives close to the original Sanders plan leaves nothing for connecting buses (polling indicates this is necessary) or any significant operating budget (absolutely necessary). The tough decision ahead is to pick one corridor to build rail, or just go “all in” with buses.

Pick one corridor that scores best with the Feds and voters. That corridor is probably Rock Island.

Four alternatives remain for Rock Island (see corresponding line colors on above photo):

  • Bus Rapid Transit (similar to MAX) from Lee’s Summit, continuing along Linwood Boulevard and US-71 (purple line)
  • DMUs on existing tracks terminating in the River Market via land adjacent to Union Pacific Railroad’s Neff Yard (orange line)
  • Enhanced Streetcar on new tracks from downtown Raytown, running along Linwood to Main, then sharing tracks with downtown streetcar (blue line)
  • Express Buses running on MO-350 to I-435, then I-70 to 10th & Main (green line)

Of the four, the Enhanced Streetcar — defined as a modern streetcar vehicle that makes fewer stops once it leaves denser urban areas — would be a boon for the city and the county. Most Jackson County voters live in Kansas City; any plan that skips most of Kansas City might be at risk with urban voters. Linwood is denser than most suburban areas these lines would serve, which improves our chances for Federal funding. This alternative also has the strongest economic development potential and would help extend the streetcar line south to the Plaza/UMKC.

Voters also want rail and have been prepped for a plan that includes it, as well as service to Truman Sports Complex and Union Station (the revised DMU option for Rock Island would bypass Union Station). Focusing on Rock Island also preserves that corridor for an extension of the Katy Trail into downtown KC, an absolute necessity for any sales tax plan. While some well-heeled Lee’s Summit residents are opposed to anything resembling a train, none of them are opposed to a bike trail.

As for the I-70 corridor, choosing any rail option on the Southeast line pretty much excludes rail for I-70. Since the remaining I-70 rail option (DMU) now skips Truman Sports Complex, Union Station, and the Central Business District, it would likely not score well with the Feds or voters… leaving us with express buses to build ridership and serve more communities directly.

If you missed the open houses, please leave a comment online.

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Jackson County transit plan still fluid

We thought Jackson County might have made a recommendation for mode and alignment this week, but we were wrong. A third round of public meetings was on the calendar for March, but have moved to April. Don’t expect a final answer until May or June.

The I-70 and Rock Island (MO-350) “Commuter Corridors” have been under analysis as long as the downtown streetcar, but with longer distances and a “common segment” dilemma there is still no indication which direction the final plan will take. One thing’s for sure: it will not be the exact plan that County Executive Mike Sanders proposed… and that’s okay.

At Wednesday’s stakeholder meeting, consultants eliminated the option of running diesel multiple units (DMUs) on Truman Road between Union Station and the Truman Sports Complex (the “common segment” of the original plan). The cost and impacts are too high for that route/mode combination (see above photo). The Terminal Railway trench that runs behind Union Station is also out. DMUs are still in play, but would terminate in the River Market via Kansas City Southern‘s existing tracks. The original Sanders plan [PDF] had DMUs running on Truman Road to connect to the tracks behind Union Station.

Other mode options are enhanced streetcar, bus rapid transit, express bus, or some combination of the four. Enhanced streetcar is defined as a modern streetcar that makes fewer stops and perhaps runs in dedicated right-of-way. An example in this case would be running streetcars down Main Street to Linwood Boulevard, then all the way east to the Sports Complex, where they could run (up to 55 mph) in the Rock Island corridor without mixing with traffic.

With the availability of hybrid streetcars like the demo at Union Station last summer, there is no longer a need to run catenary and poles along an entire route. The hybrids simply charge at station stops and can go as far as five miles before recharging. We always prefer electric over diesel. If both the Jackson County and downtown plans chose the same vehicle type, riders would have a single-seat ride into the region’s top employment and entertainment destination.

While the consultants and politicians figure out the final plan — which will include more than just two rail lines — an education campaign is due to begin. Jackson County cities have ponied up cash to fund that effort through the Regional Transit Alliance using talent who’ve actually done successful transit campaigns before (versus just hiring the same tired locals). Expect ads to look and sound something like this or this. Early polling indicates strong support for a comprehensive transit plan and a 1-cent sales tax.

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