• As transit issue heats up, cities voice their views

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  • Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders plans to put his transit plan in front of county legislators next month. They could place it on the ballot for voter approval in August.
    Meanwhile, city officials have made their case for how the countywide sales tax – probably one cent – would be used to fill out the system.
    “I think discussions have been very positive in the region,” said Independence City Manager Robert Heacock.
    Independence, Blue Springs and Grain Valley are likely to be prime beneficiaries of the Sanders plan, which envisions a commuter rail line along the Kansas City Southern line that runs through those cities. That means a stop in downtown Grain Valley and in downtown Blue Springs, plus two in Independence: at Noland Road and somewhere near Centerpoint Medical Center.
    Although the Sanders team has consistently described the focus of these plans as being about getting people to and from work – with access to the airport, the ballgame and shopping as a secondary concern – officials in various Eastern Jackson County cities have pointed to the potential for new visitors and new revenues.
    “The travel has to go in all directions – it’s not just one-dimensional,” Heacock said.
    But someone stepping off the commuter rail train somewhere along that KCS line near Centerpoint isn’t yet very close to the area’s main attractions.
    “You can’t expect people to walk ... over to Bass Pro or the Events Center,” Heacock said.
    So the city has pushed for a slice of that sales tax money to fill out the regional system with a local system – maybe buses – to get people around in that immediate area.
    “You have the backbone” with commuter rail, Heacock said. “But you have to have the rest of the skeleton to make it function.”
    Heacock adds that the Sanders team has listened to those concerns.
    “Thus far ... the county has done an exemplary job of convening and listening to people,” Heacock said.
    Sanders first rolled out the commuter rail idea three and a half years ago, and his staff has reworked and refined those plans since then. Sanders says 2013 is the year to get the issue on the ballot. He says it would transform the metro region and pay dividends for generations.
    Over time, the idea is for six main lines around the metro area, converging in Kansas City, but for now Sanders is focused on two, both within Jackson County.
    One is the commuter rail line on those KCS tracks, taking a rider from downtown Oak Grove to Third and Grand in the River Market area in an estimated 35 minutes and 15 seconds. Officials project 1,150 to 2,800 people would use it daily. Third and Grand is also the northern end of the two-mile streetcar line, running south through downtown Kansas City to Crown Center, that Kansas City expects to start in April 2015.
    Page 2 of 2 - Commuter rail and the streetcar go together, officials say. A rider could hop on in Blue Springs, for example, change to the streetcar at Third and Grand and then hop off within a block or two of, say, his job in the Power & Light District.
    A second line would use the old Rock Island line from near the stadiums south and east to the Longview area. That line has been out of use for three decades, so there’s more work involved, such as environmental review and checking the tracks themselves. For now, officials propose express buses in that corridor and using the Rock Island line itself for a hiking-biking trail, leaving room for commuter rail in the future. Since last summer, the county has pursued a broader plan that includes not just trains and buses but also a bigger network of trails, something Sanders has long advocated.
    Officials aren’t quite as far along in studying a third Jackson-County-only line, running from downtown Kansas City to Grandview. The Sanders plans originally called for a six-spoke system, with lines also to the airport, Kansas Speedway, and Liberty and Kearney – still the long-term hope, officials say.

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