Archive for the 'Election' Category
It was a big year in local transit news: elections, streetcar construction, new amenities, and a makeover of our only bi-state transit agency. Here’s the recap:
1. Election defeats
Voters said no to transportation ballot questions multiple times in 2014 — some good (streetcar & MAX expansion), some mediocre (Missouri Amendment 7), and some just plain bad (Clay Chastain’s latest underfunded petition initiative).
City Hall says wait until the streetcar starter line is up and running (early 2016) before attempting expansion again. Statewide transportation funding will likely resurface sooner (Gov. Nixon’s push for tolling on I-70 is the first attempt). Meanwhile, Clay Chastain is running for Mayor (yes, he qualifies) and claiming he will dismantle the starter line if elected.
2. Downtown starter line
The starter line officially broke ground in May and by Dec. 19 had laid 7,165 feet (33%) of the mainline track. A major component of construction was replacement and modernization of utilities, which caused impacts to linger far longer than just installing tracks. The pace of redevelopment along the line also exceeded expectations, with new residential, job, hotel, and retail announcements arriving almost weekly. Also in 2014: Operating hours were announced, branding was approved, and a new Executive Director took the helm.
3. KCATA reorganization
A flurry of activity from within the walls of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority made for an interesting year and a promising future. Here’s a quick timeline:
- January 22: Jackson County’s Robbie Makinen re-elected as chair of KCATA board
- April 23: KCATA announces plans to refocus (and reorganize) the agency around being truly regional
- August 15: Long-time General Manager/CEO Mark Huffer resigns
- September 25: Johnson County Board of Commissioners approves management consolidation with The JO
- November 19: New CEO search begins, KCATA approves new “RideKC” regional brand
Reports indicate that deals to bring Wyandotte County and Independence back into the KCATA fold are in the works.
4. SpotShotter success
Gunfire along the Troost MAX line is down 26% thanks to new technology that pinpoints the location with sound, aiding police response. It’s a collaboration between agencies (KCATA and KCPD) that’s producing real results.
5. Bike share expansion
BikeShareKC finally opened new kiosks in Midtown and near the Plaza.
6. Rock Island ROW purchase
Jackson County finally reached a deal to purchase the Rock Island right of way from Union Pacific, as well as a federal grant to fund part of the purchase. After negotiations stalled with Kansas City Southern over access to their existing tracks, the Rock Island remains the best chance to rekindle County Executive Mike Sanders’ regional rail plan.
7. Downtown bus realignment
In transit speak, the “Comprehensive Service Analysis” would shift all downtown bus routes to Grand and 11th/12th streets (“Transit Emphasis Corridors”). The change would dramatically enhance KCATA’s utility for short trips within the greater downtown area, provide better passenger amenities (“superstops”), and dovetail perfectly with frequent streetcar service on Main Street. The 10th & Main transit center would be replaced by an on-street facility just east of City Hall.
8. New service (#105, expanded #47, larger #101 buses)
It’s not common for KC to get a completely new transit route, but the modest #105 is actually notable for being the product of grassroots efforts by the Rosedale community in KCK. Constant complaints led KCATA to improve #47 service to the Truman Sports Complex. KCK’s flagship route #101 finally got larger buses in January to relieve overcrowding.
9. 31-day & regional passes
Both The JO and KCATA switched to 31-day passes (which cuts down on the cost of printing unique passes for each calendar month). The Regional Transit Coordinating Council facilitated making the more expensive JO pass the de facto regional pass that would be accepted on all of KC’s transit systems. Both efforts were easy wins entirely focused on existing customers.
10. Workforce connex grant
The Mid-America Regional Council scored a $1.2 million TIGER planning grant to study how to “double the number of jobs accessible by public transit in the greater Kansas City area” after an embarrassingly-low ranking by Brookings. The real test will be what the region does with the study’s findings (hint: it will require regional funding).
11. More WiFi
KCATA unveiled free WiFi service on MAX and other key routes. The system is basically free to the agency, as well, thanks to T-Mobile. The JO began free WiFi on its commuter routes in 2010. “SmartCity” partner Cisco unveiled plans that would enable free WiFi along the downtown streetcar route.
With just a few weeks left until voters decide on Question A – shall we organize a new Transportation Development District that would fund streetcar and MAX expansion? — organizations have been lining up to support the effort.
Mayor Sly James and the City Council, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, Center City Neighborhood Association, South Plaza Neighborhood Association, Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT), Downtown Council, Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association, Columbus Park Community Council, and the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance have all passed resolutions of support.
The above list contains neighborhood associations from each of the streetcar and MAX expansion corridors. City Council continues to vote unanimously on funding and policies related to streetcar.
Heavy Constructors, BNIM, Burns & McDonnell, Herzog Contracting Corp., HNTB, UMB Bank, Stacy & Witbeck, and Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences have all contributed to the Question A campaign.
The Heavy Constructors previously fought larger light rail plans, so their financial support for both streetcar districts is noteworthy. KCUMB’s main campus is on the Independence Avenue line.
State of Missouri
An approved Amendment 7 project list for the KC region includes $144 million in matching funds for Question A. In return, the sales tax within the TDD would be lowered so that no one pays more than an additional penny if both initiatives pass on August 5. This is the first time the State of Missouri has provided direct capital funding for any transit project. MARC and Mayor Sly James deserve recognition for keeping the region’s project list focused on transit (something MoDOT and Amendment 7′s sponsors did not want).
Meanwhile, Phase 1 construction continues with track installation resuming this month and a new Executive Director on board for the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, which is in charge of operating the system.
Downtown voters have a very good reason to approve the expansion TDD as they’ll get 8 miles of streetcar for the price of 2, since their assessments and sales tax rate won’t change.
Circuit Court Judge Marco Roldan ruled last week that the proposed Transportation Development District to fund three streetcar expansions (Main Street, Independence Avenue, and Linwood Boulevard) and one MAX expansion (Prospect Avenue) is legal and placed it immediately on the August 2014 ballot. [Map of TDD boundary]
If voters inside the TDD approve its formation on Aug. 5, a subsequent election will occur on Nov. 4 to approve the sales tax and special assessments. It’s important to note:
- The 1% sales tax applies within the entire district (some sales are exempt)
- The special assessments apply only to properties within 1/3-mile of streetcar tracks actually constructed
- No taxes or assessments will be collected until there is a minimum 50% federal match
Streetcars — and fixed rail, in general — increase the value of adjacent real estate, which is the legal basis for the special assessment (not whether or not you will use it). The city’s legal team provided evidence of this during the TDD proceedings, and Judge Roldan concurred in his ruling.
The argument for the sales tax is the same as any citywide election. Does the presence of streetcar — and the resulting increase in transit ridership and economic development — benefit the city as a whole? The answer is yes.
In short, the argument over the benefits of streetcars is over. The question for KC voters now is: Where to expand?
Starter line update
The City issued a Notice to Proceed for full starter line construction on May 15. An official groundbreaking is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 22 at south of Truman Road on Main Street. Water and sewer work will begin first — overseen by KC Streetcar Constructors — then follow with track construction.
On April 25, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority announced their recommendation to hire Herzog Transit Services, Inc., of St. Joseph, to operate and maintain the starter line — pending city approval and contract negotiations. Selection of the operator reflects the final partner required to be in place to start operating in 2015.
Full audio from the July 16, 2013, oral arguments at the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District are now available.
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.