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KC Mayor Proposes 60-mile Bistate Light Rail System

Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser

By Steve Bell


Kansas City, MO –
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser has said for weeks that he advocates a bi-state, metro-wide transit system. On Wednesday he began to describe what he has in mind, beginning with the concept.

He proposes a regional system, built all in one phase, with roughly an equal number of miles on each side of the state line. Key to its funding and construction would be a system of shared governance.

The mayor envisions a multi-modal system integrating multiple technologies and extending from Olathe through the Plaza and downtown to the airport.

Funkhouser insists that the system must be multi-modal. He says true light rail technology must be used for the central "spine," but the secondary "circulator" system should use the new fast streetcars the ATA task force and a council committee have endorsed.

Funkhouser says bus rapid transit and traditional bus service must be integrated into the plan, and that it must also incude a system of pedestrian and bicycle trails. "You ought to be able to ride your bicysle in Lenexa to the station and take the train to Power and Lighta," the Mayor said.

The Clay Chastain plan voters approved and the council repealed in November involved 26 miles of track. The Funkhouser vision jumps ambitiously into a 60 to 75 mile line. Managing and paying for it would depend on getting special legislation through the Missouri and Kansas legislatures.

That legislation would create a separate, new, different governing bod - a light rail commission that reflects a system of shared governance, shared regional funding and that is regional in scope.

The mayor says he has talked to potential bill sponsors in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and would like to have bills in both hoppers in January. He says the regional transit board would consist of 24 elected officials, half from Kansas and half from Missouri.

Funkhouser believes the collective effort of the bi-state governing commission can pass a one-half-cent bi-state sales tax that would generate $138 million a year, allowing $3.5 billion in bonding. And he thinks that surprise would speed up federal participation.

The mayor explained to Steve Kraske and his listeners that he would surprise federal officials by asking for one-third participation, not the usual 50 percent federal funds. That, he says, would put Kansas City at the top of the list of applicants.

With a regional system and $3.5 billion in local bonding in place, the mayor calculates that Kansas City could easily get another billion dollars from the federal government. That would bring the starting budget for the system to $4.5 billion.

At the Kansas City Star's estimate of $60 million a mile, the mayor says the city could build a system up to 70 or 75 miles long. But he would devote 10 percent or so of the budget to building bike and pedestrian trails. He would also build a new transit-bike-pedestrian bridge across the Missouri river.

The mayor says with light rail as his number one priority he has a chance to have it all put together for a November public vote. "All I'm sayin' to folks," the mayor said, "is, 'give me until November.'"

The mayor cocedes that success in time for a November vote is not a certainty. He says if all the pieces are not in place by August, he will switch his support for a vote on a shorter starter system in November and continue his crusade for a regional transit system.

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