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Clay Chastain Asking Voters Once Again To Approve A Light Rail Plan

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3

Virginia resident Clay Chastain has another yet another proposal for Kansas City voters – a $2 billion plan to build light rail from the airport to the Cerner campus in south Kansas City.

“The streetcar expansion isn’t going to help a low income person get to a job,” says Chastain, who’s proposed numerous transit projects since moving away from Kansas City 15 years ago. “We need better transit to help people that need transit.”

David Johnson with the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance says he doesn’t disagree that the city could be more transit-oriented. But he says Chastain is going about it all wrong.

“I think what Chastain’s proposal does is give people a sort of fantasy plan that can’t really be paid for the money that’s being collected,” Johnson told KCUR’s Steve Kraske on Up To Date Friday.

Johnson says it’s not clear Chastain’s proposed 3/4-cent sales tax hike would actually pay for the type of infrastructure upgrades promised to voters.

“For 50 miles of light rail, you would probably have to estimate $100 million a mile,” Johnson says. “Just the streetcar, which is lower-cost implementation than light rail, it was $50 million a mile.”

Chastain’s plan assumes significant federal investment in Kansas City’s transit system and takes money away from Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. Chastain argues ridership is low enough – 6 percent – that further investments in existing bus service don’t make sense.

“If you send me to Washington, I’ll get the billion dollars,” Chastain says.

But Johnson says Chastain shouldn’t be so quick to count on federal funding for his light rail plan. The feds, Johnson says, already have reservations – and they usually pass on projects that make cuts to existing bus service.

Chastain’s light rail plan is question No. 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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