The most important election affecting Johnson and Wyandotte County voters will be held in Kansas City on Tuesday. The fate of Kansas City International Airport will have a far greater impact on residents in Kansas suburbs — as well as in other parts of Kansas and Missouri — than the selection of mayors, school boards or community college trustees. The shadow of KCI covers the entire region and could dictate how, or whether, the region grows in the future.
Kansas City residents have all the voting rights and all the say over the fate of our airport. This is despite the fact that a majority of the almost 12 million travelers who board planes at KCI each year are from Kansas.
It is the travelers who will shoulder the burden of paying higher ticket prices and higher parking fees to fund a new airport — not the taxpayers of Kansas City. There are no taxes of any kind involved in this project.
Consider parking fees alone. Of the total number of cars parked each year at KCI, 52 percent come from Kansas; 43 percent are from Missouri; and 5 percent are from other states.
Let’s look a little deeper. Of the cars parked at KCI, only 20 percent come from Kansas City. Some 32 percent come from Johnson County. If parking fees go up, Johnson County travelers pick up more of the tab, and, thus, are funding more of the airport. But no complaints.
Building a new KCI terminal is imperative to grow the region’s economy. Executives at Southwest Airlines, the major carrier at KCI, have been reluctant to promise more flights and more destinations if the proposal passes. They can’t offer an ironclad commitment because circumstances beyond their control — such as a major recession — could come into play. So, the spokesmen for Southwest have been guarded in their pledges.
However, just recently Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines’ chief executive and chairman, did make a definitive statement. He made it abundantly clear that the current KCI configuration would prohibit future Southwest expansion here. That is not an idle threat. That is his statement of fact, and it’s a fair warning that the future of air travel in this region could be determined by this vote.
Already, Southwest is bypassing Kansas City when the airline expands its flight schedule. St. Louis recently saw Southwest add a dozen flights. Some of those might have been ours, if we were prepared to take them on.
If airlines do not add more flights at KCI, the local economy will get left behind.
Key business decisions are made all the time with ease of travel being near the top of the list in determining whether to relocate here, whether to expand here or even whether to stay here. The vibrancy of the airport and future of airline travel are critical factors for business leaders weighing their options.
Those of us who live in the suburbs and beyond can only plead for voters in Kansas City to give this region a fair shot at a faster growing economy. If Kansas City voters turn down the measure, it will be a giant step backward for all of us who live and work here.
Millions of individuals who live in this region and use KCI and want to see it expand will be deprived of a vote Tuesday. It is up to the voters of Kansas City to cast their ballots in favor of a new terminal, for an airport that serves us all. I believe strongly that if the region had a vote, residents would say yes, even knowing that they, the users of the airport, will pay the lion’s share of the costs.