The potential of building commuter rail in Jackson County is much brighter thanks to a new, positive agreement between Jackson County and Union Pacific Railroad.
And the possibility of creating an expanded system of hiking and biking trails has taken a big step forward, too.
Thats far better than the glum situation that existed in late 2013, after the countys disagreement with Kansas City Southern appeared to forever threaten the commuter rail option.
The pact with Union Pacific gives the county the opportunity to purchase 19 miles of abandoned railroad corridor, including the Rock Island Line that runs through Lees Summit, Raytown and Kansas City and just next to the Truman Sports Complex. The price is almost $60 million.
This kind of long-range planning is the mark of progressive communities. If Jackson County wants to offer a new kind of transit option whether five or 25 years from now officials must take bold action to prepare for that future.
The county hopes that gaining access to additional corridors in the future could eventually take commuter rail all the way to 3rd Street and Grand Boulevard. Thats close to Kansas Citys new downtown streetcar line.
Sanders emphasized Monday that county taxpayers are not being asked to come up with funds for the land purchase. County officials say they will aggressively seek money from multiple sources including the federal government.
Yet amid all the talk at the county courthouse of commuter rail routes, building them is not part of the current agenda. Indeed, the county likely would have to ask for a tax increase to install and operate a rail transit system.
Still, if the land is bought, that would give the county the immediate option to begin building hiking and biking trails along the corridor, which reportedly is quite wide in most places. The trails could link to other systems, including the Trolley Trail in southwest Kansas City and the Little Blue Trace Trail in Independence, and eventually even reach the Katy Trail, which flows across much of Missouri.
An expanded system of trails would be a notable achievement for Jackson County, and it could be done in tandem with the commuter rail project if that gets rolling.
None of this happens, though, without first buying the land. Making that happen should be a top priority for Sanders and other Jackson County officials.