Lewis Diuguid

August 7, 2014

Kansas City streetcar expansion will follow St. Louis MetroLink’s success — eventually

MetroLink on the other side of the state opened in 1993, crossing the Mississippi River as it connected East St. Louis with St. Louis and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Then a strange thing happened. People loved it.

When the St. Louis MetroLink light rail system was proposed, it was not warmly embraced.

That sounds a lot like the streetcar expansion that voters trashed Tuesday in Kansas City. Yet, the MetroLink on the other side of the state opened in 1993, crossing the Mississippi River as it connected East St. Louis, Ill., with St. Louis and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Then a strange thing happened. People loved it, which led to several expansions as more communities got over their biases to demand that form of mass transportation for their neighborhoods.

Kansas City will likely experience the same trend once the 2.2-mile streetcar system goes on line downtown. People will want a line running to the Country Club Plaza; to the University of Missouri-Kansas City; to the 18th and Vine Jazz District; to the new East Patrol Division police campus and Kansas City Zoo; to North Kansas City, Zona Rosa, Kansas City International Airport and even spurs connecting the satellite parking lots with terminals; to the East Side along Linwood Boulevard to Bruce R. Watkins Drive; and south on Watkins Drive to the new Cerner campus planned for Bannister Road.

Even Brookside will clamor for a streetcar line along the trolley trail. The system’s success will lead to its expansion.

What city officials have to figure out is a better way to pay for the mass transit system. Voters on Tuesday derailed the proposed streetcar transportation development district and the regressive sales tax and special assessment to pay for the more than half a billion-dollar system.

Mayor Sly James, however, remains right — Kansas City needs streetcars. City officials just have to figure out a different means of financing it before the downtown line starts accepting passengers in late 2015.

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