KC’s streetcar expansion now faces huge challenge: winning votes

05/21/2014 9:29 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

No doubt about it: Thursday brought a big victory for supporters of expanding Kansas City’s fledgling streetcar system.

However, a far larger challenge now is ahead of these backers.

Can they win voters’ support in August to form the transportation district that would allow an election in November to actually help finance the multimillion-dollar extension of the longer streetcar lines?

On Thursday, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Marco Roldan gave the legal go-ahead to let voters decide whether to create the district.

Here’s one key point of his ruling: “The court finds the testimony of (supporters) credible and persuasive. The benefits include increased property values, neighborhood stability, lower vacancy rates, increased interest in, and enhanced pace of, development and redevelopment of surrounding properties, and increased housing stock.”

The judge specifically supported the imposition of new assessments on property within up to one-third mile of the actual streetcar lines — which would extend from the under-construction downtown line south on Main Street and east on both Linwood Boulevard and Independence Avenue.

He said these properties would gain in several different ways from the addition of the streetcar, an argument backers make all the time.

However, the judge’s ruling now puts the next decisions in the laps of voters.

Specifically:

Will they in August say it’s OK to form the transportation development district, which roughly extends from State Line Road to Interstate 435 on the east, and south of the Missouri River to just past the Country Club Plaza on the west and down to Gregory Boulevard on the east?

And if the TDD is endorsed, will voters in November approve the one-cent sales tax to be imposed in the district as well as the new property assessments?

It’s quite possible that the biggest battle will be in August.

That’s because voters who are inclined to vote for the TDD also would be inclined to support the tax and property assessments.

And the opposite is true, too. If you don’t even want to have the tax come up as a possibility, then you will vote “no” on Aug. 5. Not surprisingly, the possibility of higher property and sales taxes have brought out critics who think the taxes are excessive or the benefits are not worth supporting.

In short, the future of Kansas City’s streetcar system could be decided to a large degree in less than three months.

UPDATED 2:30 P.M.

Here’s a Thursday afternoon statement from Mayor Sly James, a big proponent of the streetcar system:

“It only makes sense that we expand the economic development already seen around the downtown starter line to other parts of our city. So far, over 30 new or renovation projects worth three-quarters of a billion dollars are already in process or planning phases and more is on the way in the downtown corridor. It’s my hope that Kansas Citians will agree that the investment is worth the pay off. I’m particularly excited about the possibilities around this for the East Side, considering three out of the four transit corridors are connecting the East Side with the downtown corridor. Today’s decision means we can move this conversation, and the future of transportation in Kansas City, forward.”

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays on KCPT. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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