The Kansas City Council is expected to hear more details Thursday about an unusual and very complex plan to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
The proposal, offered by local engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, calls for privately financing the $1 billion project. Council members must take as much time as needed to explore the details and protect the interests of taxpayers and the flying public.
That does not appear to be the view of Mayor Sly James. After negotiating the plan in secret for several weeks, the mayor is pushing the council to quickly agree to the deal by the middle of June, just four weeks from now.
The City Council must resist that pressure. Moving too fast could result in a flawed agreement that is more costly than it needs to be. It also risks confusion and frustration among voters, who would be asked in November to render their verdict on the deal.
We have called for a November election on the airport terminal. That was before we learned of the deal with Burns & McDonnell, a blueprint that has seriously complicated the decision-making process.
We applaud the council members who are reaching out to the public, asking for comments about the Burns & McDonnell plan. We also support the hiring of outside legal counsel to review the agreement.
A November vote is still possible. But the last-minute introduction of the Burns & McDonnell proposal has put important new issues on the table:
▪ Why didn’t the city ask other firms to bid on the proposal? The Burns & McDonnell plan may be the best option for Kansas City, but there is no way to know that for sure until other companies offer their ideas.
▪ What’s in it for the company? Kansas Citians must know, in hard dollar figures, the fees and income the company expects to realize from the airport project.
▪ What are the advantages and disadvantages of the unique private financing plan? We know private financing will cost more. What justifies the added expense?
▪ What role will citizens play in design review? Will elected officials be allowed to sign off on the terminal after Burns & McDonnell finishes its design, or will they be handed the plans as a finished document?
▪ What do the airlines think of the agreement?
▪ How much, exactly, will the terminal cost? Will Burns & McDonnell cut corners if costs get too high?
These questions, and others, simply weren’t being asked a week ago. They must be answered before the City Council moves forward.
The deadline for putting the terminal on the November ballot is Aug. 24. There is no need to hurry a final judgment on the Burns & McDonnell plan.
The mayor will argue against a delay. But he cannot expect his colleagues to reach an informed conclusion on one of the biggest public works projects in city history without time to consider the evidence.
We’ve said it before: Kansas City can’t afford to make a mistake on this project. Its citizens must take whatever time is needed to fully understand what they’re being asked to do.