Clay Chastain still wants to be heard as plans for a metro commuter transit system come together.
He says his idea -- a light-rail line connecting the zoo, Waldo, Brookside, UMKC, the Plaza, downtown and the airport -- would work well with Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders' idea of commuter rails from the suburbs to Union Station.
"So my plan and the Sanders plan, they make beautiful music together," Chastain told me a few days ago.
But Sanders has different ideas.
Let's start from the top:
In the fall of 2009, Sanders and TranSystems principal Jim Terry unveiled a plan for six commuter rail lines converging at Union Station. Those lines would run to:
• South Kansas City ahd Grandview.
• Kansas Speedway and the Legends.
• Kansas City International Airport.
• Liberty and Kearney.
• Independence, Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove (and maybe Odessa someday).
* Raytown and Lee's Summit (and maybe Pleasant Hill someday).
The beauty of it, proponents say, is that most of needed tracks already exist -- Kansas City is a huge freight rail hub -- and are just sitting there, unused or underused. A good example is the Kansas City Southern line from Kansas City through Independence, Blue Springs and points east. KCS runs four or five trains a day on thet line and fully supporrts the Sanders/Terry plan, eager to put more traffic on its line.
The Sanders/Terry plan initially came in at a little more than $1 billion -- a lot of money but a fraction of the cost, per mile, of building a system from the ground up. Sanders wants federal money -- just getting back the area's share of gas tax funds, for once, he says -- and that cost-effective approach enticed the feds to pay for further studies of the Independence and Lee's Summit lines. Heck, they were so impressed they threw in funding to study the Grandview line, too -- something that frankly surprised county officials. Sanders takes all that as highly encouraging.
So for the last year Sanders' executive team, the Mid-America Regional Council and a high-profile transportation consulting company have been hard at work on plans for the Independence and Lee's Summit routes, aiming to get in line for federal funding to build the system -- and with an eye on a likely November ballot issue for either a half-cent or one-cent countywide sales tax. Officials say both options poll well.
Meanwhile, Kansas City officials expect word soon on federal funding for a streetcar line from Union Station to the River Market. Residents and property owners there vote on those plans this summer. These two systems would go together. You'd hop on a commuter rail line in, say, downtown Blue Springs and go to Union Station and then transfer to a streetcar to your office downtown or to the big concert at the Sprint Center. (The commuter rail option, as opposed to light rail or plusher and faster buses, isn't firmly, officially final just yet -- some advocates really want buses and insist they make more sense -- but Sanders has made his preferences clear.)
Chastain's view is that his plans fit in with all of that,
"Sanders' plan -- that could really dovetail nicely with my own plan," he said.
There are hangups, of course. Chastain has pushed various light rail plans over the years, and none has been built. He's in court at the moment to get his zoo-to-the-airport line on the November ballot, with a three-eighths-cent Kansas City sales tax to pay for it.
So now it's two transit taxes on the same ballot? That gets tricky and confusing, quickly.
Sanders is focused on the part of this he can controll, the three lines that would lie entirely in Jackson County. Sure, everyone wants to get to the airport, but that also imvolves Platte County and getting a whole new set of officials on board. (Sorry, lots of these old railroad cliches are about unavoidable.)
Here's the calculation: Just get the thing going, and then everyone else will see its benefits and want in. That applies to Johnson County, too. Note that it's not included in the original Sanders/Terry plan. That's because costs are higher -- Johnson County's many tracks are really busy -- and officials there haven't been all that enthusiatic. Fair enough, but that could change in time.
Proponents of tax issues on the ballot need to clearly, simply answer three questions:
• How much do I pay?
* What do I get?
* When to I get it?
Sometimes a fourth question comes into play, too: How much other money will my tax dollars leverage?
Think of the stadium renovations voters approved a few years ago. Jackson County taxpayers agreed to a three-eighths-cent sales tax for 25 years, the Royals and Chiefs threw in hundreds of millions of dollars of their own, and the state added some. Arrowhead and Kauffman were refurbished on time and under budget, everyone likes the stadiums, the teams are locked into long-term leases -- and the Royals host the All-Star Game next month.
Sanders and Kansas City Mayor Sly James have supported each other on the complementsry commuter rail and streetcar plans, but neither has shown much inclination to work with Chastain. Sanders challenge will be to reduce a complicated situation to an easily understood taxpayer transaction. Anything else cluttering the ballot is a challenge. Maybe Sanders figures he has enough headaches as it is.