Archive for the 'Election' Category
December 11 was the final deadline — 550 ballots were counted and certified the following day (video | news). With this win, the downtown streetcar is now fully funded (in addition to previously approved federal funding).
This time money was on the line and nearly half (337) of the second election’s voters did not participate in the first election. Supporters gathered at Nara in the Crossroads to celebrate victory with Mayor Sly James and Councilmen Russ Johnson and Jim Glover. Full results were:
Question 1 (1% TDD sales tax):
Question 2 (special assessments on TDD property):
In the first election, 460 ballots were counted:
Question 1 (formation of the TDD):
The City Council immediately began advancing the project again, putting two ordinances on the docket that authorized the Final Design contract with HDR, Inc. and authorize bonds to finance construction. HDR completed the Alternatives Analysis and Advanced Conceptual Engineering phases; they are also currently involved in streetcar projects in Dallas, Tucson, and D.C.
The TDD Board will meet on Dec. 17 to approve the sales tax and assessments, a formality that is expected to occur without delay.
Ground breaking is planned for Spring 2013 with utility work and construction starting in Summer 2013. Operations are still on schedule to begin in 2015.
Councilman Glover said he was committed to expanding the streetcar “throughout the 4th District”, which includes extensions south to UMKC, west to the Bottoms, and east along Independence Avenue.
The second (and final) downtown streetcar election has been scheduled and will consist of two questions (one for the sales tax, one for the special assessments on residential, commercial, and municipal property — vote yes for both, as both must pass for either to take affect!). The judge’s ruling is here.
- 8/31-10/2 – Ballot request period (application now available!)
- 10/30 – Ballots mailed
- 12/11 – Ballots due
The TDD Board consists of Mayor Sly James, Port Authority Chair George Wolf, residential property owner Matthew Staub, and commercial property owner Jeff Krum (who is also CFO of Boulevard Brewing Company). Mayor James is Chair and Staub is Vice Chair of the TDD Board.
The Kansas City Streetcar Authority was formed on Aug. 3 and consists of downtown stakeholders and city appointees. It is charged with operating the streetcar and consulting on remaining engineering and construction activities with Public Works. The Authority has yet to meet or elect officers.
As soon as this second election is final, the city can issue bonds and start construction. Operation is still planned for 2015.
Separately, the countywide sales tax for transit has been moved out to 2013.
It was another big week for the downtown Kansas City streetcar project:
- 69% of downtown voters said yes to the Transportation Development District’s formation,
- The City announced the project’s funding gap has been closed, and
- Councilman Russ Johnson released a list of proposed Phase 2 expansions.
TDD election successful
While process whittled the number of votes cast to 460 from 603 original requests, the winning result was still a resounding victory that was easily predicted based on past transit elections. Downtowners simply want transit options and are willing to pay for them. The final tally was 319 yes, 141 no. The TDD was officially formed the next day in a ruling [PDF] by 16th Circuit Court Judge Charles Atwell.
The same day the TDD was officially formed, the City formed the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, a new non-profit that will run day-to-day operations of the streetcar and advise the City on remaining engineering and construction activities. [Disclosure: I will be serving on the Authority's Board].
Here’s plenty of coverage from the major outlets:
- Kansas City Star (and the hostile editorial)
- Kansas City Business Journal (and here)
- The Pitch
Funding gap closed
Councilman Russ Johnson announced at the streetcar election watch party that a $25 million gap — left by an unsuccessful application for a federal TIGER IV grant — has been filled by:
- $18 million request for federal Surface Transportation Program funds (programmed locally by MARC)
- $7 million in cost savings, primarily through the elimination of the Crown Center stop
The streetcar was the highest scoring (79) project on the Missouri-side STP project list. The next highest ranked project was 71 and the lowest was 33. Per the STP Committee, the highest scoring project has never not been funded (either in whole or part). When engineering completes, additional cost savings may be identified.
Expansion discussion opened
Expansion beyond the 2-mile starter line was always on the table, now Councilman Johnson and his colleagues from the 3rd and 4th Districts have publicly opened that discussion to entice neighborhoods to sign on. A PDF map is here, but the corridors are:
- Independence Avenue (Grand Avenue to Topping Avenue) – 4.4 miles
- 12th Street East (Main Street to Jackson Avenue) – 4.2 miles
- UMKC (Pershing to 51st) – 4.1 miles
- 18th Street East (Main Street to Benton Boulevard) – 1.8 miles
- Southwest Boulevard (Main Street to State Line Road) – 3.0 miles
- 12th Street West (Main Street to Genessee Street) – 1.4 miles
- North Kansas City (3rd Street to NE 32nd Avenue) – 3.1 miles
Of course, all expansion is subject to additional funding. Got a favorite one? Let’s hear about it in comments.
Kansas City wasn’t a winner in the ultra-competitive TIGER grant program, yet the streetcar continues with plenty of political backing. The mail-in election addressing 75% of the project cost wraps July 31; early returns are positive, with half of eligible voters already returning ballots.
Only one of the seven streetcar projects that applied for TIGER actually won: Fort Lauderdale (press release). They applied once before and were denied. This time, all of their outstanding pieces were in place (local and state funding).
Fortunately, many options exist for closing Kansas City’s streetcar funding gap (in no particular order):
Value engineering: Basically trimming scope while providing the same basic service. An entire block has already been eliminated from the route (see above photo). The city could also save money ordering expensive components (vehicles, rail) by teaming up with another city, perhaps even Fort Lauderdale (they also plan to launch in 2015).
Design/Build: The city could (and probably will) hire one vendor to design and build the streetcar line in one contract. This delivery method was used for the new Bond Bridge and is increasingly common as cities and states look to save money on expensive capital projects.
Reduced lending costs: Since TDD assessments will only raise $10 million annually, construction costs will be financed with city-backed bonds. The life of those bonds could range from 10 to 25 years, meaning lots of interest. The lower the interest rate, the lower the overall cost. Rates are very low now — lower than what the baseline budget assumes — but no one can predict what rates will be when bonds are sold before construction starts. Regardless, Missouri’s state infrastructure bank (PDF) is another option that could reduce interest rates to what the market can provide.
Other Federal transit funding: The Small Starts program is the most obvious, since that’s where transit projects under $250 million typically go first; both of our MAX routes were funded through Small Starts. The city is also seeking funds from the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) — both administered through MARC.
Crowd-funding: Crossroads start-up Neighborly is launching ourstreetcar.com, which will allow anyone in the world to donate as little as $1 directly to the project (in exchange for perks, which start at the $10 level). While it might not raise $25 million, every dollar raised through Neighborly avoids lending costs that contribute significantly to the overall price tag. [Disclosure: I serve on Neighborly's advisory board.]
Jackson County: A 1-cent countywide transit sales tax is being eyed for November. County officials have shown interest in making sure the streetcar is completely funded, since their regional rail plans rely on the streetcar to distribute riders to the Central Business District.
PIAC: The streetcar is on next year’s PIAC wish list, which could net another million or two from existing city infrastructure funds (as it did in 2012).
The City has chosen a mail-in election for the downtown streetcar. Since the Circuit Court is overseeing the formation of the Transportation Development district that will fund the streetcar, they are also handling the mail-in election.
Here’s how to participate:
- Print the ballot application from http://www.16thcircuit.org/streetcar/
- Print your voter registration status** from http://kceb.org (“Check Your Voter Status”)
- Send them back to the court (hand-deliver, mail, or fax) by 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 22. If mailing, allow enough time for delivery by May 22.
If you don’t request a ballot you cannot vote, just like absentee voting. You must live within the TDD boundary to apply for a ballot, since only those properties will pay the special assessments. The Downtown Neighborhood Association has a calculator for residents to determine their annual assessment.
- June 1 - U.S. Department of Transportation will reveal if the streetcar has won all or part of $25 million TIGER grant request
- June 19 – Circuit Court will mail ballots to those who requested them
- July 31 – Completed ballots (vote YES for the streetcar) must be returned to the Court
This first vote is only to form the TDD and set maximum assessments. Final special assessments rates will be set at a second election later this year. The City is actively working to find additional funding sources to reduce the assessments, including the one that they will pay on all municipal property.
All 3,400 qualified voters (those registered who live within the TDD boundary) were mailed ballot applications by the streetcar campaign on May 8. The envelope contained a letter from Mayor Sly James explaining the project, a map of the TDD, and the official ballot application.
The entire TDD sits within Ward 1. That electoral ward voted over 60% in favor of the November 2008 light rail plan.
** UPDATE! We’ve had reports that some registered voters aren’t showing up at http://kceb.org. If this happens to you, please call the Kansas City Election Board (816-842-4820) and have them email you that you are, in fact, registered. Print that email as proof and enclose it with your ballot application. Do NOT mail your application after Monday, May 21 since it must be RECEIVED by 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Please fax the application and your voter registration status to the number on the form or hand-deliver to the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City.
Judge Charles Atwell today issued his judgement [PDF] on the Transportation Development District the City sought to fund construction and operation of the 2-mile downtown streetcar.
The major question was whether the various assessments — on commercial, residential, and municipal property; a sales tax; and a additional assessment on commercial surface lots — presented an “undue burden” on any property owner. The judge ruled that while the levies would be a burden, no one is being singled out and the rates aren’t “disproportionate to that of other property owners.”
The judge heard testimony at a public hearing on April 17 (see photo above) and allowed the petitioners to make their legal case on April 18 (I was a supporting petitioner). Three commercial property owners showed up to oppose. Supporters outnumbered them, and even a few supporting commercial property owners were on hand to level things out. Deliberation was expected to take between one and two weeks.
Today’s ruling immediately starts a mail-in election (ballots may also be hand-delivered to the court):
- Monday, April 30 (8 a.m.) - Ballot requests begin
- Tuesday, May 22 (5 p.m.) - Ballot requests end
- Monday, June 19 – Ballots mailed to voters
- Tuesday, July 31 (5 p.m.) – Ballots due
Of course, we will have our answer on the TIGER grant application by the time this is all over. Not receiving that grant doesn’t end the project, but just delays it beyond the current 2015 target.2 comments
It was a big week for the Downtown Streetcar project. Here’s a brief recap:
- The City Council unanimously passed three rezoning ordinances that will make transit-oriented development easier, as well as improve the likelihood of receiving Federal funding. The biggest change involved elimination of suburban-style parking minimums in the Crossroads. To appease some property owners, the changes don’t take effect until May 1, 2013 — about the time the streetcar would start construction on the current timeline. Per Councilman Jim Glover, it’s one of the largest rezoning efforts the City has attempted.
- “Downtown Streetcar Supporter” window clings (see above) began appearing in downtown shops and restaurants.
- The $25 million TIGER application is in process and will be submitted on Friday, March 16.
- A public hearing for the Transportation Development District has been set for Tuesday, April 17 at the Jackson County Courthouse.
- If the judge rules the TDD can proceed, an election to form the district will be held Tuesday, June 5. A second election will be held to set the levies.
You say you want improved transit in Kansas City? Well, your slate of mayoral candidates has finally let it slip where they stand. The bad news is that you don’t have very many options.
Steve Kraske reports on Prime Buzz that only Mike Burke, incumbent Mark Funkhouser, and Sly James have made any positive comments about transit — light rail, specifically — in recent interviews and candidate forums.
Unfortunately, one of the three (Funk) has a miserable record and nothing to show for having had transit on his list of priorities for his entire first term… including the failed 2008 vote for the starter line to replace Clay Chastain’s winning 2006 petition initiative (which was the catalyst for this blog). Coincidentally, Chastain announced this week that he’s “moving back to KC” to run a write-in campaign for mayor. We can safely predict this will go nowhere.
The remaining two pro-transit candidates are capable of occupying the city’s top elected position, but need to provide more detail about their plans for transit, including whether they support Mike Sanders’ regional rapid rail concept.
Other candidates offer the same tired excuses — variations on the “we can’t afford it” theme — but:
- Reality #1 is that the city is still spending money on the exact same things it spent money on before the recession, just less on each item (including transit).
- Reality #2 is that the big price tags for major transit improvements always come with matching federal dollars — otherwise, they just don’t happen. The feds tell you early on whether you’ll have a chance at getting any money, which was a major sticking point for some voters with the 2008 plan (the vote was held far too early in the federal planning process).
- Reality #3 is that capital and operating expenses must come from a new, dedicated tax. That means it will not affect the city’s general fund or debt capacity (KCATA can issue its own debt, especially if it has the revenue from a new tax).
The mayoral and council primary is Feb. 22 and the election is March 22.
On a side note, you may have noticed that the site has been quiet lately and even has a new name: transitkc.com. We’re broadening the scope of the blog to include all modes of transportation in the region. The change will be accompanied by a complete redesign, the addition of a mobile presence, and more social media integration. Stay tuned for more details!3 comments
Photographer Eric Bowers captured Clay Chastain during his petition drive at Union Station on Saturday, which was also National Train Day. Chastain gathered about 1,000 signatures, but announced today he’d be scaling back the proposal.
Earlier in the week, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders made a competing pitch to the Kansas City City Council; the Council tentatively agreed to support the Sanders plan [PDF] and is considering a change in the petition process that would require a financial statement from the city auditor for each petition initiative submitted to voters.
Photo used with permission.3 comments
Punch #1 – Another light/commuter rail plan. PrimeBuzz has the details.
Punch #2 – Strip the City Council’s ability to invalidate petition initiatives.
We’ve maintained that Chastain’s motivation actually seems quite pure and is valuable in keeping the city’s feet to the fire on transit improvements. Our system is undeniably underfunded and has yet to make the leap from poor-people mover to economic development engine.
BRT, commuter rail, and streetcars are all great proposals, but none of them will ever come to fruition if our operational funding isn’t significantly increased (and preferably on a truly regional basis).
Regarding Punch #2, the Council will never live down repealing the only successful vote on light rail, flawed as it was. Since that first repeal of a petition initiative didn’t go so well, expect voters to do some punishing.5 comments