The chief advocate of a $1.1 billion regional rapid rail system on Thursday suggested the possibility of significant local funding to build it rather than waiting years for federal money.

The chief advocate of a $1.1 billion regional rapid rail system on Thursday suggested the possibility of significant local funding to build it rather than waiting years for federal money.


“I don’t know the answer, but that’s a question we’re ultimately going to have to ask ourselves,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said.


Sanders, speaking at the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon, said the metro area needs to tackle several regional issues – none more important than transit. Federal officials have given money for initial studies that are under way and, Sanders said, they remain impressed with the cost-efficiency of the plan, but it typically takes seven to 10 years for Washington to fully pay for such a plan.


“We want to get this done a lot quicker than that,” Sanders said.


As he has done repeatedly in recent years on rapid rail and other issues, Sanders pointed to progress in cities such as Indianapolis and Denver and said Kansas City must start acting strategically and as one region.


“What are we going to be as a metropolitan area 15 years from now, 20 years from now?” he said.


He said issues from crime to schools to transportation cannot be isolated to one city, either Kansas City itself or the suburbs.


“Our fortunes, for better or worse, are all tied together,” he said.


Rapid rail would be the largest public project in the area’s history and could transform the community, he said. Officials have stressed that although it would be great for tourists, convention-goers and even Chiefs fans, the primary focus is on getting people to and from work. It would run 16 hours a day, with trains every 15 minutes on its six lines.


Sanders said Denver a few years ago faced the same presumed obstacles as Kansas City does: It’s costly. People love their cars. Is anyone really going to ride this?


Not only are people taking the train but all of Denver’s industrial development since then has been clustered along that system, he said. Each stop, he said, becomes a magnet for millions of dollars of industrial, commercial and residential development.


“It’s not the answer, but it’s certainly a piece of the puzzle,” Sanders said.


Such a system would be immensely valuable to employers, advocates say. People making $9, $10 or $11 an hour – especially if gas goes to $5 or $6 a gallon – will make heavy use of rapid rail, Sanders said, adding that nationwide ridership has always exceeded initial projections.


Sanders repeated his contention that federal officials continue to praise this plan as one of the most financially attractive in the country. That’s at the heart of the plan: Kansas City is a major rail hub but has lots of unused or little used lines. A prime example is the Kansas City Southern line through Independence, Blue Springs and Grain Valley carrying five trains a day – four of them overnight.


The Sanders plan would put those existing corridors and tracks to use, avoiding issues – and high costs – such as environmental permitting and relocating homes and businesses if it were built from scratch.


That figures out to a cost of about $10 million per mile.


“You try this anywhere else in the United States, it’s 10 times that,” Sanders said.


Sanders also repeated this promise advocates have offered before: A Chiefs fan at a sold-out game could leave the worst seat at Arrowhead Stadium and still get home to Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit on Rapid Rail in less time than it would take to get a car out of the Arrowhead parking lot.