Joe Reardon was a little jealous of what he saw on a recent trip to the transit-friendly city of Portland, Ore., nationally known for its bike paths plus light rail, commuter rail and streetcar systems.
But the president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority also had big transit-related news up his sleeve, which he unveiled last Wednesday on his return from Portland.
Along with Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, Reardon announced the expected $52 million purchase of the Rock Island corridor that stretches almost 18 miles from near the Truman Sports Complex to Lee’s Summit. It’s a vital link from this region to the Katy Trail that stretches across Missouri.
The new and crucial county/ATA alliance will benefit bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit passengers in the metropolitan area.
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In the next year or so, Sanders said in a later interview, officials hope to complete the path and make it available for users to enjoy within a year or two.
“The money is in the queue to build the trail,” Sanders said. He added that the county has federal funds to help with that purpose.
The county also has revenue from a bridge and road fund that will assist the ATA with the purchase price of the long-unused corridor, formerly controlled by the Rock Island Line but now owned by Union Pacific Railroad.
As Reardon pointed out in an interview Friday, more positive actions could be ahead. And this is where it gets really exciting, where the Kansas City area has the opportunity to boldly boost the amount of public transit and move toward where Portland already is.
As he sketched out the plans, the ATA leader sounded optimistic about adding a bus rapid-transit service to the corridor or even commuter rail.
Because the corridor is up to 100 feet wide, the pathway for bicyclists and pedestrians could remain intact, even if a dedicated surface is built for express buses to whisk people from Lee’s Summit to the sports complex. That would be a good place for them to link to buses on the entire ATA network, which essentially includes buses that go to Independence, Kansas City, Kan., and Johnson County.
Here’s more good news: Using the nearly 18-mile corridor for either buses or commuter rail could bring transit-related development to neighborhoods all along the way.
Consider Raytown, a close-in suburb of nearly 30,000 residents, which has slowly lost population in recent years. The corridor snakes through Raytown, cutting at one point through the heart of downtown where 63rd Street intersects with Blue Ridge Boulevard and also Raytown Trafficway.
If a Raytown transit stop locates close to that area, it would make the downtown area and neighborhoods around it more appealing as places to work and live.
That kind of example exists for parts of Lee’s Summit and Kansas City, because the corridor goes through those cities as well. More than 25,000 jobs and 56,000 residents already live within one mile of that old Rock Island line in Jackson County.
In turn, the governments in those cities could spend their own funds on, say, landscape near transit stops to enhance service for public transit users — some of whom feel the cities currently spend too much to build and maintain extensive road systems.
It was thus encouraging that mayors such as Sly James of Kansas City, Randy Rhoads of Lee’s Summit and Mike McDonough of Raytown attended Wednesday’s announcement.
Reardon, the former mayor of the Wyandotte County Unified Government, calls this entire approach “transit-oriented development,” and it’s one reason he recommended that the ATA board endorse the purchase.
“This corridor is unique as it represents a dedicated connection across these communities that is currently unutilized,” Reardon said on Sept. 29. “It would be difficult, if not impossible, for any entity to assemble such a corridor today.”
By cooperating with Jackson County, the ATA properly is boosting its role in expanding how the organization thinks about public transit in the area.
“Joe gets the big picture,” said Sanders, who pointed out that the ATA is a recipient of federal transit funds, making it the perfect conduit of money for trails-related plans.
Bicycling groups in this region get credit for pushing the connection to the Katy Trail.
“It’ll be a big step forward for transportation, economic development and bicycle tourism,” said Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC.
Sanders and Reardon said their organizations still have to nail down final details of the purchase in coming weeks.
If they and others can keep this ambitious plan moving forward, the trail will be serving tens of thousands of people within a few years and regional public transit will be on more solid footing than ever.