As Kansas City lays tracks for its downtown streetcar line, a proposed Jackson County community rail system is stuck at the station.
In his state of the county address Friday, County Executive Mike Sanders said he remained committed to the project, saying, “Our only enemy in this endeavor is inaction,” but he gave no specifics in the speech.
In a meeting with reporters afterward, Sanders said the project remained without a timetable because of a need for more discussion with the railroads on whose tracks the commuter system would run.
He also put some distance between himself and his earlier proposal for a 1-cent sales tax to fund the system. He said only that should a deal be struck with the railroads, the county has the authority to ask voters for up to a penny increase in the county sales tax for transit.
But for now, he said, any discussion of a financing mechanism is premature.
Last winter, Sanders and the Mid-America Regional Council unveiled a $650 million plan to run commuter trains from Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit and others points in eastern Jackson County to downtown Kansas City. The plan also called for expanded bus service and additional trails.
But Sanders canceled his tentative plan for a sales tax election this year when Kansas City Southern backed out of what Sanders said was an agreement to allow commuter trains to run on its tracks from Blue Springs to near Third Street and Grand Avenue in the River Market area.
Kansas City Southern, instead, wanted further study to see whether commuter service could be accommodated in the railroad trench that leads to Union Station.
MARC recently completed such a study, and it showed that adding two additional tracks to the trench dedicated to commuter service would cost $1.5 billion.
“That makes it for today a very difficult option,” Sanders said.
The only way Union Station as a terminus makes sense financially, he said, would be if the freight railroads that own the existing three tracks would allow them to be used for additional passenger trains.
Amtrak now uses the tracks but has far fewer trains running on them than a commuter rail service would require.
Also in his address, Sanders said the 2014 budget he will submit to the county Legislature includes initial funding for a $6 million-plus renovation of the courthouse annex in Independence. It would add four courtrooms and update the jury room.
His proposed budget will not include a property tax increase. The current levy, he said, is 1 percent lower than when he took office in 2007.