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Judge To Review Challenged Light-Rail Ballot Initiative This Week

Clay Chastain
Video frame courtesy of TV-9
Clay Chastain tried a fiery oratorical style as he announced his latest ballot initiatives at Union Station. (Click to enlarge.)

Kansas City transit advocate Clay Chastain is in town this week to promote his light-rail proposal ahead of hearing that could put the issue before voters.

Chastain, a former Kansas City resident who now lives in Virginia, has for years pressured the city to build an interconnected transit system with a hub at Union Station. His idea has a lot of moving parts – light rail line to the airport, commuter rail to the southeast and streetcars to the Kansas City Zoo. And in 2011, he gathered enough signatures to put a 3/8-cent sales tax on the ballot to help pay for it.

But the City Council didn't put it on the ballot, saying the plan was unworkable. Chastain's been fighting that decision in court ever since. The Missouri Supreme Court issued a fairly convoluted ruling earlier this year, saying Chastain's proposal could go before voters, but the City Council wouldn't have to build a light-rail system if it passed. Now it's headed back to a lower court for further review.

"We feel the city's afraid that the public is going to like the transit light-rail initiative over their streetcar plan, thus they're trying to block a vote so the voters don't have a choice," says Chastain.

A hearing has been set for Thursday. If Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Sandra Midkiff says the light-rail plan can go before voters, the November ballot gets a little messy. It's likely Chastain's proposal will end up side-by-side with the city's plan to expand the downtown streetcar line.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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