Longtime transit activist Clay Chastain was in Kansas City on Monday to advocate for what he says is his most ambitious light-rail plan ever — a $2 billion, 40-mile system of light-rail trains and electric buses.
“Kansas City is missing one vital piece of infrastructure, a state-of-the-art public transportation system,” Chastain said in urging support for his idea, which will appear on the local ballot Nov. 8.
Chastain, who lives most of the time in Bedford, Va., nevertheless gathered enough petition signatures of Kansas City registered voters to get a measure on the November ballot. It seeks approval for three sales taxes totaling three-quarter cents for 25 years to help build a light-rail system from Kansas City International Airport to the Cerner campus in south Kansas City and from Union Station to the Truman Sports Complex.
The local taxes would include an increase to the citywide sales tax by three-eighths of a cent for 25 years, beginning in 2017. It also seeks to divert one of the city’s two bus taxes for three-eighths of a cent beginning in 2024, depriving the buses of about $26 million per year.
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“It is expensive. Most great things are,” Chastain said, adding that his plan also seeks $1 billion in federal funding, which is not guaranteed.
This is Chastain’s 10th transit-related petition initiative attempt in Kansas City. Nearly all of his ballot measures have failed with voters, except for one in November 2006 that called for diverting a tax from the bus system for light rail. The City Council deemed that plan unworkable, and it was never built.
Chastain was in town for just a few days to make his latest pitch but said he’ll be back several times before November. He said he didn’t know whether he would raise any money or mount a formal campaign, although he plans to have a website ready in about 10 days.
The City Council agreed to place Chastain’s measure on the city ballot, but members said they don’t support it, don’t believe it raises enough money to complete the proposed route and will urge people to vote against it.
A different group is calling for extending the downtown streetcar route several miles south on Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. That petition effort would involve a tax increase, but only along and near the proposed route. That plan involves a different election process and will be considered by a Jackson County circuit judge in September.