It sure seems as if Vince Cunningham has a good point.

It sure seems as if Vince Cunningham has a good point.

His family has run Cunningham Autobody & Glass, just off 23rd and Noland in Independence, for 36 years.

“And we have a hail storm of this magnitude,” he says, referring to the heavy storm on Sept. 18, “and people are coming into town, setting up tents.”

Tents, that is, housing dent-repair companies that pop up like mushrooms after a heavy rain.

“Here we are, 36 years in the community, taking from my livelihood, and they’re gonna be gone in four months,” he says.

It was a nasty storm, and Cunningham says thousands of vehicles – maybe even into five figures – were damaged, so businesses such as his figure to be busy for a while. It was about the worst he’s seen in his 21 years in the business, he said, and he happened to drive through about the worst of the storm when it hit 39th Street and Missouri 291.

“I had one (hailstone) hit the windshield of my truck, and I thought it was coming through,” he says. Some of the vehicles coming into his shop, of course, are considerably worse off.

Cunningham points out that his business has been around a long time – “I take great pride in what my father and grandfather started here,” he says – and that it takes out all of the appropriate city licenses and is there to service its warranties. Will these other folks, he asks, have anything to offer beyond an 800 number if there’s a problem with the work and it needs a follow-up? His advice: Make sure whomever you take your business to will be around for the long haul.

Rail is about business

Jim Terry and Mike Sanders were trying to make a point: The proposed Kansas City Regional Rapid Rail plan is fundamentally a business issue.

“We have got to be able to move people from where they live to where their jobs are and back,” Terry, a principal at TransSystems in Kansas City and designer of the plan championed by Jackson County Executive Sanders, told the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce last week.

Part of the problem is language. I’ve been covering this issue fairly closely since Sanders rolled out the plan last fall, and even though this is commuter rail – think of passenger trains on freight lines – I notice that people tend to hear “light rail” instead, conjuring up visions of tourists riding from the airport to a hotel to the big game and back. Or even a quick, easy, low-cost ride home from a Chiefs victory.

Sure, Terry and Sanders say, those things will happen, but the fundamental focus is less glamorous and a lot more useful.

Terry and his team have designed their $1.02 billion, 114-mile system pretty much down to the last spike by tweaking the plan mile by mile, stop by stop, trying to get the best mix of using existing tracks (saving lots of money) to connect “employment centers” – Independence Center, Zona Rosa, Worlds of Fun/Hunt Midwest north of the river – with the areas with the highest population density and with the places people go for fun. One line of the six lines would run from Union Station to Independence, Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove along Kansas City Southern tracks.

They said one key example was in Kansas City, Kan., where a single stop would be within walking distance of several of Wyandotte County’s largest employers, manufacturers paying $11, $12 or $13 an hour. And a huge slice of those workers list Independence ZIP codes on their addresses, they said.

Terry also argues that other cities putting in such systems see employers clustering along those rail lines.

Another argument for commuter rail also is business related. Kansas City is so spread out – as are its big hotels – that the area is losing a lot of conventions that can bring thousands of people, and their wallets, to town for a weekend or a week. Sanders and Terry point to the example of other cities around the country, where a rail system makes getting around seamless and easy.