Marriage of state transportation tax, streetcar plan boosts KC’s future
07/12/2014 7:00 AM
07/11/2014 6:16 PM
In a sudden and positive agreement, Missouri and Kansas City officials recently brokered a coordinated plan that could enhance all forms of transportation in this area.
With the blessing of voters, the region could get more than $775 million worth of needed road, bridge, transit and trail upgrades over the next decade. And Kansas City could move closer to finally building a fixed-rail system outside the downtown core with extended streetcar lines.
How do we get there?
The Star recommends a “yes” vote on Missouri Constitutional Amendment No. 7, which would boost the state sales tax by three-quarters of a cent for 10 years. The amount that would be sent to this region closely corresponds to the population, meaning this isn’t a questionable subsidy devised for rural roads.
The Star also recommends a “yes” vote on Kansas City Question A, which would create a transportation development district in a large part of the city south of the Missouri River.
A successful election on Question A would not hike taxes. Instead, it would allow voters in that district in November to decide whether they want to pay for a bigger streetcar system. A sales tax increase and special property assessments are proposed. A large amount of federal funds would have to be secured before the city begins collecting the local tax.
Voters could make history in August.
Approval of the higher state sales tax, for the first time, would make it possible to use large sums of Missouri dollars for public transit projects. Currently, state gasoline tax revenues are aimed at road and bridge programs. This emphasis needs to be reduced in the future, especially in the Kansas City region, which would help control sprawl and emphasize the value of mass transit for a larger number of residents.
The state-city deal would help finance extensions of the streetcar line that’s currently being built between the River Market and Union Station. Extensions would go south from the station along Main Street and east on Linwood Boulevard and on Independence Avenue.
The tax also would finance a new bus rapid transit line on Prospect Avenue and extend the Katy Trail closer to the region.
Still, a majority of the funds would go for key road and bridge projects. The biggest would be widening Interstate 70.
Locally, state funds would help pay to replace the Broadway Bridge and to reconfigure downtown roads leading to it. Other major projects on the list would enhance safety on local interstates.
Passage of the state tax would come with a few bonuses for the ambitious streetcar expansion.
First, it would allow the city to reduce a local sales tax request in the transportation district in November to a quarter cent. Overall, the full tax increase would not exceed one cent in the district.
Second, a far larger number of taxpayers would help finance the fixed-rail system, including those who live north of the river and in the southwest corridor, two potential long-term extension spots for streetcar.
The state sales tax is not ideal. It prohibits user fees, such as a higher gasoline tax and tolls for the next decade. That is unfortunate and shortsighted. Missouri has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the nation, and it ought to be increased.
However, we have come to agree with tax supporters that — after years of inaction and previous defeats of other funding plans — Amendment No. 7 is the pragmatic way to meet the challenge of improving Missouri’s roads, bridges and public transportation systems.
The potential bonus of using that money to extend the streetcar lines makes the Aug. 5 package a solid investment in Kansas City’s future.
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