The battle to extend Kansas Citys streetcar line has begun in earnest. Proponents are now accountable for proving the merits of this $400 million or more project to the public.
Supporters do have a success story to tout so far: Construction has begun on the two-mile, voter-approved downtown starter line, to be completed in 2015.
But the more ambitious expansion plan would ask voters to approve adding up to 10 miles of streetcar lines on three other routes south on Main Street, east on Independence Avenue and east on Linwood Boulevard or 31st Street.
Several questions must be fully answered in the months to come.
• The Jackson County Circuit Court in April will hold hearings on whether to approve a petition by streetcar supporters to create the Kansas City Urban Rail Transportation Development District.
It would create a large, urban core taxing district from the Missouri River to 85th Street and from State Line Road to Interstate 435. A new 1-cent sales tax would be charged in the district, and special assessments would be levied on property within a half mile of streetcar routes. That includes properties of churches and nonprofits, a fact already spurring push-back against the plan.
Proponents specifically will need to show that revenue raised inside the district would adequately cover the citys portion of the expansion.
• Voters will decide in August whether to create the transportation development district. If that happens, theyll decide in November whether to authorize the new taxes and assessments.
So far, the flashpoint on streetcar extension concerns its possible route into Brookside and Waldo.
Opponents express concerns over the future of the popular Trolley Trail east of Brookside Boulevard and also contend that the taxing streams are too much of a burden and that potential benefits are too low.
Mayor Sly James, a streetcar backer, last week announced a 31-person committee to examine the issue. It could be very valuable if members can make recommendations clearly laying out what those neighborhoods can expect from a streetcar line.
A report by streetcar planners, expected in late March, must answer some of the funding concerns and establish a schedule for when other questions will be answered before public elections later in 2014.