Expanding Kansas City’s new streetcar line from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas City area is far from a slam dunk.
For one thing, there’s the price tag of $227 million. For another, some critics still aren’t convinced the system is a high priority — or any priority at all.
On Thursday, the idea of extending the 2.2-mile starter line by 3.75 miles faces its next big test, when opponents and proponents will get their chance to weigh in on whether the plan should move forward.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs will hold a public hearing from 9 a.m. up to 5 p.m. It could go into Friday if a lot of people show up.
The hearing is a crucial step. Youngs has to rule on whether the petition filed by supporters organized by the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance meets state statutes to form a transportation development district that could be used to expand the streetcar system along Main Street.
The alliance contends, with numbers to back it up, that the original line is wooing plenty of passengers, and this is the time to see whether people living along the proposed expansion route want to put more rail in the ground.
Only voters living within the midtown transportation district could vote on the higher taxes required to help pay for the longer line. That election could come in late 2017. If approved, the longer streetcar system would open around 2022.
Some detractors say they like the streetcar but want Kansas Citians to focus on other issues for now.
A few City Council members made that clear in August. They said the city likely would ask residents next April to approve a property tax increase to finance an $800 million bond issue for basic improvements such as better roads, bridges and sidewalks.
Other critics simply don’t like the project. Dan Coffey, leader of Citizens for Responsible Government, issued a statement this week saying: “The petition KCRTA and associates will present to the judge should never see the light of day. It is vague and ambiguous; the judge should throw it out. It does not contain a true picture of the total costs of this project.”
The court hearing is by no means the final decision. Even if the transportation district is formed by residents and new taxes are endorsed, the transit alliance would need City Hall’s assistance to go after tens of millions of dollars in federal funds.
It took years for backers to put together the funding package for the first streetcar line. The same kind of patience will be needed for the new project — unless it’s derailed somewhere along the way.