It is crucial that Kansas City build a brand new, business friendly, single-terminal airport.
I didn’t used to feel that way. But officials from Southwest Airlines, the airport’s largest carrier, are persuasive when they say there is an urgent need to build a single terminal, and not try to renovate. The airlines indirectly will pay the $1 billion to construct it. They strongly urge Kansas City to build a “front door” to be proud of for decades to come.
It’s too bad the issue is headed toward a public vote, because it appears it would take a bigger miracle to get it passed than it did for Donald Trump to prevail. The polls reportedly indicate only 39 percent of voters would approve of such a facility. If Kansas City will not step up, Johnson County might. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Consider the killer obstacles to a public vote:
Out of the 11 million annual travelers through Kansas City International Airport, only 12 percent live in a Kansas City, Mo., ZIP code. That means a lot of voters could care less about the airport’s future.
Or consider the fact that a whole lot of travelers think the current configuration is so convenient, they cannot imagine how a single terminal would not be inconvenient, even though there are assurances otherwise.
How about the fact that uninformed voters do not believe city leaders when they promise that if voters approved the bonds, taxes would not go up, even though that is totally true.
And if all that were not enough, influential U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, whose Northland district includes KCI, opposes a single terminal — some think because his ego was bruised when he was not included in the initial planning.
Political and civic leaders are overly optimistic when they think that if they just could educate the public, the issue would pass. I don’t believe that for a minute. There is not enough money or television time or mailers to persuade enough voters to say yes. A public vote should be avoided if at all possible.
Different kinds of bonds could be used that are more expensive but would not require a public vote. Using some kind of public-private partnership that would own the airport might negate the need for a public vote.
Or, here’s a radical idea: Have the airlines finance the airport project because they are responsible for covering the costs anyway. There must be additional, creative ways to avoid a public vote and then for the City Council to revoke its ordinance requiring a public vote, even if the Citizens for Responsible Government scream their heads off.
If Kansas City fails to get its act together, what happens next will be inevitable. In Johnson County, where one in four KCI travelers live (while a third live somewhere in Kansas), sits a 2,500-acre airport facility, just four miles southwest of Olathe. It was once the Naval Air Station. Today it is the New Century AirCenter. One of its two runways currently could handle any general aviation aircraft. And, of course, it could be extended, if necessary, and more runways built. Today, the airport is used strictly for commercial aviation. Tomorrow, it could be used for passenger flights.
It doesn’t take much imagination to contemplate how a second airport, so convenient for much of the traveling population in the metro area, could be a viable second airport, allowing Southwest and other airlines to expand local service dramatically.
Perhaps such a proposal might wake up Kansas City enough to make things happen at KCI. But I throw this out, not as a bluff, but as an alternative only if the single-terminal concept at KCI does not get off the ground.
For the good of the entire metro, Kansas City must get around a public vote and not allow the naysayers to set the agenda for Kansas City’s future.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org