• Transit plan details coming to light

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  • An update today on metro transit plans – with Eastern Jackson County in a key role – will help set the stage for more work in 2013, the year Jackson County Executive Sanders sees as pivotal to his hopes for a rapid rail system complemented by improved bus service and expanded hiking and biking trails.
    “There are a lot of moving pieces here,” Sanders says.
    Three years ago, Sanders rolled out his Kansas City Regional Rapid Rail plan, with six lines meeting in Kansas City. A countywide sales tax – probably one percent – to help pay for the first two lines could go on the ballot in August or November.
    Both of those lines would run through Eastern Jackson County. One would use the Kansas City Southern line that comes out of Kansas City and rolls east and south through Independence, Blue Springs and Grain Valley. The railroad has long supported the commuter rail idea, and Sanders says his team has an agreement in principle with KCS.
    The second line would be on the old Rock Island line that runs out of Kansas City south and east through Raytown and Lee’s Summit. That line, idle for 30-plus years, is today owned by the Union Pacific, and talks with the railroad have been going on for some time.
    “All that’s left is the Union Pacific,” says Sanders, adding that he fully appreciates the company’s need to take its time when a making a decision that could affect its business for a century or more.
    He said the talks continue to go well, but he also said 2013 represents the last, best window in which to get the project done.
    Meanwhile, planners have spent much of 2012 hammering out details for those first two proposed lines and a third, running to Grandview. The latest versions of the those plans are to be revealed at an open house today. It’s from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the River Market Event Place, 140 Walnut St., Kansas City (that’s about a block and a half north of the Steamboat Arabia). Planners will take public comments and refine their plans further before offering a final version.
    As the year has gone on, Sanders has had his team broaden the scope of planning for a comprehensive transit system, one that might have commuter rail – or rapid rail, as advocates also call it – as its spine but is fleshed out with more buses as well as scenic trails for hikers and bicyclists. Officials have discussed options such as “bus rapid transit,” using vehicles that are sometimes described as having more the look and feel of a commuter rail car than a conventional city bus even though they run on city streets.
    The Independence/Blue Springs and Raytown/Lee’s Summit lines would take commuters to the River Market. That would complement a planned two-mile streetcar – River Market to Union Station – that Kansas City is likely to start around 2015. The idea is that a commuter would hop on a train in, for example, downtown Blue Springs and ride quickly to the River Market and then catch a streetcar to the office in downtown Kansas City.
    Page 2 of 2 - From the time voters might say yes to rapid rail, it would take about two and a half years to get the system rolling, officials say.
    “2015 is, I think, not unrealistic,” Sanders says.
    The original Sanders plan had the six lines going to Union Station, not the River Market, and county officials would still like see that happen someday, but those talks would involve several railroads and take a good deal of time.
    In addition to the Independence/Blue Springs, Raytown/Lee’s Summit and Grandview lines, the Sanders plans initially included lines to the Village and Kansas Speedway, Kansas City International Airport, and Liberty and Kearney, all converging at Union Station. That’s still the long-term plan – along with a hope that Johnson County will one day want in – but for now officials are focused on what can be just in Jackson County to get the system up and running.

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