So far, so good on Jackson County commuter rail plan
The Kansas City Star
If Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders gets his way, some day people in suburbs east and south of Kansas City will take the train to work rather than endure the traffic.
Sanders, long a promoter of a regional commuter-rail system, is a long way from his goal. But the findings of a recent study marked completion of a necessary step.
The alternatives analysis study concluded that the first phase of any commuter rail system should run along tracks that roughly parallel Interstate 70, creating a service linking Oak Grove to the River Market.
The estimated cost for phase one would be between $327 million and $434 million, including the stations and upgrading existing Kansas City Southern freight track to handle commuter trains.
The “trains” would be self-propelled cars that cost around $3.4 million each. While all this is being built, the plan calls for Max-style buses to move commuters along I-70 and Missouri 350.
The plan also calls for construction of a trail following the former Rock Island line, from Truman Sports Complex to a point near Pleasant Hill. That would provide a long-sought link between Kansas City and the Missouri-spanning Katy Trail.
County officials say they plan to seek federal money to finance it but are prepared to proceed without such aid. Sanders has envisioned a one-cent increase in the county sales tax that could be given to voters next August or November. If it fails at the polls, he says, the idea dies.
Johnson County’s effort to build a commuter line along I-35 offers a cautionary tale. Costs initially seemed reasonable, but as talks with the railroads dragged on the estimates rose until the idea was deemed unfeasible. That doesn’t mean a similar fate is likely for Jackson County, but these projects do tend to meet unexpected obstacles.
For Sanders’ brainchild, the bottom line at this point seems “so far so good,” although a major question remains on the likely ridership — a figure notoriously tough to estimate for transit modes that do not yet exist.
Will enough commuters leave their cars behind to make the effort worthwhile? Has congestion on I-70 reached the point where a commuter service can claim a competitive advantage in terms of travel time?
That factor will make the difference if it drives motorists from their cars to the trains.