Stunning setback for commuter rail in Jackson County
The Kansas City Star
(UPDATED 5:30 PM) Making the right decision, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders delivered stunning news this afternoon to area mayors and transit advocates.
He won’t seek voter support for a tax increase this August to build a commuter rail system in the county, or to enhance the county’s trails and bus systems.
Why? Because the plan essentially is being held hostage by two railroad companies that control the lines where the commuter lines would run.
Kansas City Southern Railway at the last minute said it would only go along with the commuter rail plan if the last leg went to Union Station, not 3rd and Grand, according to Sanders.
The other major railroad involved in the commuter rail situation - Union Pacific - says it’s fine with 3rd and Grand as the terminus point for part of the system. That’s where the ATA has a major hub and where Kansas City’s proposed streetcar system will have a crucial link.
But Union Pacific has a problem with the Union Station link, worried about capacity of the area to handle all the different train traffic, according to Sanders.
Sanders said he could not, in good faith, ask Jackson County voters to embrace a one-cent sales tax unless he had nailed-down agreements with the railroads.
Sanders is taking the right approach.
If the two railroads won’t agree on where the final leg of commuter rail will be allowed to travel, taxpayers should not be asked to approve a new transit system.
The delay, in a way, is not surprising. The railroads in general have never been easy to work with on transit issues, across this country.
But the delay also is very unfortunate.
It also reportedly angered several mayors whom Sanders told today about the last-minute problem, including Blue Springs’ Carson Ross and Raytown’s David Bower. The system would serve both of those eastern Jackson County communities.
Sanders and other Jackson County officials hope Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific will come to an agreement on where the final leg of commuter rail could travel.
Until that happens, Sanders is right to pull the plug on the election, which likely couldn’t happen before November or even 2014.