KC Streetcar

KC streetcar supporters defy opposition vote, say expansion planning will continue

Planning for KC streetcar expansion will continue despite Tuesday’s vote against city participation.
Planning for KC streetcar expansion will continue despite Tuesday’s vote against city participation.

Proponents of Kansas City streetcar expansion said Wednesday that planning will continue despite a voter-approved measure that prohibits city involvement in the project.

In the long-run, the vote against streetcar expansion could potentially be overturned by the City Council, although any decision on that isn’t likely until after a planned airport election this November.

Voters on Tuesday dealt a blow to Kansas City streetcar momentum by approving a measure, Question 1, that prohibits municipal government from planning or implementing any streetcar transit system without citywide approval. That puts up a potential roadblock against ambitions to extend the streetcar route from downtown to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, because the project ultimately will need city participation.

But for now, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority will use non-city resources to jump-start engineering studies to prepare for the project, Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend said Wednesday.

“We are obviously disappointed in the results,” Gerend said about Tuesday’s vote on Question 1, a petition initiative from streetcar opponents that passed 51 percent to 49 percent.

“The KC Streetcar Authority is committed to continuing previously initiated planning and expansion activities, as we strive to maximize the value, benefit and impact of our successful streetcar starter-line.”

Gerend said the Streetcar Authority and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority are partnering on a $1 million contract with a team led by HDR Engineering. That plan is expected to take about nine months. He said the authority’s money will come from operational savings from prior year budgets and is not funded with city resources.

The study will look at the best route along Main Street (whether along the curb or in the center), station stop locations, utilities, terminus configuration at 51st Street and Brookside Boulevard, updated cost estimates and ways to pursue federal funding.

David Johnson, a prime mover behind the streetcar expansion effort, agreed Wednesday that expansion planning continues.

“There is a lot of work to be done that doesn’t involve the council and the city,” he said.

Johnson led a grass-roots petition effort that ended in a few thousand voters along the Main Street corridor supporting, in an unusual mail-in election, an expanded streetcar taxing district. Those results were tabulated just last week. That sets the stage for an election of the new streetcar district board of directors, which Johnson said will be held in October.

Another key election is expected early next year, in which voters living within the district boundaries will decide on specific sales and property tax increases to help pay the local costs of a project that could exceed $227 million. Federal money would also be needed. City government could be a grantee for the federal funds, although other agencies could be as well.

Sherry DeJanes, who led the successful petition drive for Question 1, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Tuesday night she said the city needs to heed voters, who clearly signaled their opposition to spending city money for streetcar expansion.

The city’s Law Department previously had written a memo to DeJanes outlining legal problems with the way Question 1 was drafted, especially with the prohibition on “planning.”

DeJanes has said those objections needn’t kill the ordinance. The city charter allows the 13-member City Council to repeal a petition initiative with nine votes, and some council members said Wednesday that could be a possibility later this year.

But no decision is likely without more discussions with the Law Department. Repeal of a voter-approved ordinance can be problematic politically, and DeJanes, a lawyer, has also suggested any effort to undermine the measure could result in a court battle.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley