The proposed route makes excellent sense: Take the line that now ends at Union Station and keep running it south on Main Street through midtown, through the Country Club Plaza and end near the University of Missouri-Kansas City. For now.
The Star has long supported fixed rail more for the redevelopment it can create than its people-moving ability. The 2.2-mile downtown line has helped attract more housing, hotels and office projects into the blocks on either side of Main Street.
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The exact same thing could happen in the midtown corridor and around the Plaza and UMKC campus.
Taking the system through the heart of an area where voters in 2014 supported plans for an eight-mile expansion — one that unfortunately died because of voter opposition on the East Side — also makes political sense. Residents along the midtown corridor could be persuaded that a new, 3.75-mile line would help their property values by attracting even more housing and businesses.
Expanding the system could make it more of a public transit asset. As the initial line has shown, people are willing to take it to events near Crown Center, inside the Crossroads Arts District and in the River Market. The longer line would allow passengers to get on near UMKC and on the Plaza and ride all the way downtown, and vice versa. It also could move UMKC students from the Plaza-area campus to a new downtown arts campus if that ever gets built.
However, the new plan’s costs of at least $227 million will give many people pause. Also, will it get enough federal funds to hold down the amounts requested from local residents?
The Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance and other backers will need to roll out convincing evidence in the weeks ahead that higher sales and property taxes needed to pay for the bigger system would be worth it.
Even the most optimistic streetcar proponent thinks the longer system couldn’t open until 2022. That explains the sensible idea of trotting out the expansion plan now.
Media reports Thursday said a separate light-rail petition also is underway in Kansas City.
However, the far more realistic plan now is to stay focused on how an expanded streetcar line could benefit the urban core — and whether the right plan has been unveiled to carry out that important priority.