Kansas city's mayor deserves credit for outlining a plan that covers the basics

Light rail in Kansas City faces four huge questions. The first three are about where to start, how to pay for it, and who pays for it.

 Kansas City’s mayor, Mark Funkhouser, is outlining his suggestions, which have something for all of the larger communities on the Missouri side of the state line. Independence, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit would have commuter rail service using existing rail lines. The total cost: $1.2 billion over 15 years.

 It’s a start, and it covers all the bases on the Missouri side. The system would get people to and from the airport, downtown, midtown and the stadiums – and it connects to Eastern Jackson County. It’s a mix of light rail, “commuter rail,” street cars and express buses, but for users, what’s the difference? It either runs on rails or streets, and it gets people around efficiently.

 And then there’s that fourth question: How do we work this out? The metro area has no significant regional planning to speak of, so any broad proposal has to go through several of the area’s dozens of local government entities . A few years ago it appeared that the bi-state vote to refurbish Union Station would be a model for future efforts, but that’s been a disappointment. The Kansas side, for now, is sitting this one out.

 Funkhouser at least deserves credit for putting out a plan. We’ll see what the suburban communities have to say. That will continue a discussion that at some point goes through the ballot box, possibly as early as this fall. It was hopeful news the other day to see that people on the Missouri side favor a sales-tax increase for light rail – at least in the abstract. The next phase of the discussion is for each community, each voter to assess the “what do I pay, what do I get” question.

 If the prospect of $4-a-gallon has suddenly focused public attention on the issue, so much the better, but everyone understands this is no quick fix. Using existing rail lines makes a lot of sense, though some of them would need upgrades, and that’s not cheap. Neither is an entirely new light rail line from south of downtown Kansas City to north of the river. Then again, who knows what the price of gas will be by the time the first ribbon is cut?