A key Jackson County official in the discussion about adding bike trails and possibly more public-transit options has resigned.
Calvin Williford, executive director of the county’s Rock Island Rail Corridor Authority, resigned this week. Williford was the chief of staff for Mike Sanders when Sanders was the county executive and pushing hard for a commuter rail plan to serve most of the metro area.
That effort led to the county’s purchase of 17.7 miles of unused track that’s being converted into a bike trail – leaving open the possibility of mass transit later.
“I believe this project (the bike trail) is going to be transformational for the community,” Williford said Thursday, noting the benefits to health, economic development and connecting people with jobs.
That trail will run from the stadiums south and east through Raytown and Lee’s Summit to the Longview Lake area. After lengthy negotiations with the Union Pacific, the county bought the old Rock Island tracks in 2016, with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority putting up half of the $52 million purchase price.
County Executive Frank White Jr. on Thursday confirmed that plans for the bike trail are still in place. The county has nearly wrapped up environmental questions and other issues and hopes for a groundbreaking this fall. Construction could take most or all of 2018.
Meanwhile, the ATA is looking at longer-term plans for that corridor, which could include commuter rail service or another mode of mass transit. The right of way is about 100 feet wide, and officials say that’s enough room for both a bike trail and commuter rail.
The county is doing the bike trail, but White said the ball is in the ATA’s court regarding commuter rail or other options.
Williford noted that several years ago, when Sanders was in office, the county, the ATA and the Mid-America Regional Council found funding for an analysis of regional transit alternatives, helping to kick off the discussion. Williford was closely involved with those efforts.
“The good news is that partnership continues,” he said.
When it bought the Rock Island tracks, the county also got the Union Pacific’s agreement to help it get rail access from the north end of those tracks, near the stadiums, all the way to Third and Grand in the River Market area of Kansas City. That would open up more for commuters.
Third and Grand also creates a connection to Kansas City’s streetcar. Williford said a discussion is needed on how the streetcar and other public transit plans fit together.