Area officials are asking the public and local leaders just what routes they’d like to see under a commuter rail system that would mesh with bus service and possibly include streetcars or even light-rail as well.

Area officials are asking the public and local leaders just what routes they’d like to see under a commuter rail system that would mesh with bus service and possibly include streetcars or even light-rail as well.

“Let’s start thinking and planning generationally,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders urged several dozen people gathered for an open house on transit Tuesday in Independence.

Shawn Dikes, project manager, added, “Tonight is the beginning of that, hopefully, transformational journey that Mike talked about.” He stressed that the plan must be tailored to local needs and citizen desires.

Sanders, taking a $1.1 billion system designed by Jim Terry, a principal at TransSystems in Kansas City, rolled out the Kansas City Regional Rapid Rail plan two years ago. It would use some of the area’s abundance of unused and underused rail lines and keep construction costs of a fraction of what other cities have paid.

Since then, the county and other organizations pursuing the plan have received federal grants to study three of the six proposed lines, all in Jackson County.

One of those would run through Independence as well as through the downtowns of Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove. It would run mostly on the little-used Kansas City Southern line through those cities, but when the line gets to Independence, several alternatives are on the table.

A morning commuter could get on a rapid rail train in, say, downtown Blue Springs and head west. That train would run north of Lake Tapawingo, under Interstate 70 and behind Centerpoint Medical Center. Now that westbound train is nearing Noland Road, passing within easy earshot of the YMCA and the post office. Now there are two options:

n Stay on the Kansas City Southern line to 23rd Street and then run west on 23rd to just past Interstate 435. At that point, that line hooks up with a line coming up from Lee’s Summit, and trains on those lines head to Union Station. Independence City Manager Robert Heacock said he likes this option because it means better service for people in northern and western Independence. There are plans to elevate the rails along 23rd Street.

“It’s not going to be walling off or dividing 23rd,” he said.

n Turn south and run along Noland, and alongside the Union Pacific tracks, to I-70. Then the line would turn and run west on the south side of I-70 to Sterling Avenue. Then it goes south, crosses 43rd Street, goes west and passes south of Riss Lake. It would meet that line from Lee’s Summit near the stadiums. Both then go on a common line to Union Station, though there are two different alternatives on how to get from the stadiums to Union Station.

Other options on the table would skip rapid rail and put the focus instead on express buses, possibly with a mix of street cars and light rail. One “bus rapid transit” route would serve Blue Springs and Independence Center, taking riders to downtown Kansas City. One streetcar plan involves a line from Blue Springs to Crown Center, running along U.S. 40 to about the stadiums and then cutting across to Hospital Hill.

The overall commuter rail plan has six spokes, all converging at Union Station. In addition to the Independence-Blue Springs-Grain Valley line, there would be lines to Lee’s Summit and Pleasant Hill (on the old Rock Island line), to Grandview, to the Kansas Speedway area in western Wyandotte County, to Kansas City International Airport, and to Liberty and Kearney. A commuter arriving at Union Station and needing to get to work at, say, H&R Bloch downtown, would use a downtown transit system likely consisting of streetcars and buses. Kansas City officials are working on that.

In Independence, Heacock said, a streetcar system would make sense to get commuter rail users around to such places at Centerpoint, Children’s Mercy Hospital East (now under construction), the Independence Events Center, Bass Pro Shops and other attractions in the city’s bustling southeast corner.

Officials said they are eager to hear public comments. Today they’ll have displays up from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Mid-Continent Public Library at 6131 Raytown Road, with staff on hand for questions from 5 to 7. Then it’s the same thing, same hours Thursday at Union Station.