Kansas City’s popular streetcar line could stall out at its current length, a mere 2 miles of track running from the River Market to Union Station.
Expansion efforts could be derailed as a result of a convoluted ballot question that narrowly passed in Tuesday’s election, 51 to 49 percent. It’s a good bet that not all voters fully grasped the potential consequences.
Approving Question 1 tied city staff’s hands, prohibiting officials from participating in planning efforts to expand the line south to the University of Missouri-Kansas City without citywide approval. Violations could result in fines of $1,000 a day.
Streetcar proponents failed to educate voters about the proposal and did relatively little to demystify the confusing ballot language. Information about the complex question was scant, and in a low-turnout election, the streetcar opponents prevailed.
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Heading off dissent early would have been a smart strategy. Now a complicated mess is looming.
The City Council could try to intervene by repealing the ballot initiative or suing. But undercutting the will of voters is always a perilous proposition.
Meantime, the groundwork for expanding the streetcar line has already been laid.
On Friday, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge could approve the creation of an expanded streetcar taxing district known as a transportation development district. That move sets in motion the process to elect a board of directors to govern the district, a vote that must occur within 120 days.
Only voters within the district, those who live closest to the proposed streetcar route, will choose the seven directors in October. Anyone living in the district who has been a registered voter for at least a year can put their name in the running.
So, while the creation of the taxing district was the first step in the process to expand the rail system farther south, the board could be populated with directors who oppose its existence.
For now, supporters of the streetcar’s expansion are aiming to keep moving forward. On Monday, a day before the election, $1 million in contracts related to the streetcar expansion project were announced.
The work will include initiating the request for federal funding, coordinating with regional transit services, deciding station stop locations and collecting data about utilities and other factors along the proposed route, which would stretch from Union Station to 51st and Brookside.
But how that work can be accomplished without even one phone call being made to a city official is unknown. The election result is an avoidable and possibly debilitating complication that could leave streetcar expansion off track.