Guest Commentary

Councilman Jermaine Reed: It all starts with public transportation

The city and KCATA have plans for revitalizing the Prospect Corridor — but they won’t work without commitment from the federal government, writes Councilman Jermaine Reed.
The city and KCATA have plans for revitalizing the Prospect Corridor — but they won’t work without commitment from the federal government, writes Councilman Jermaine Reed. The Kansas City Star

As a 15-year-old, my only means of transportation was the bus, so needless to say I was familiar with the public transit system. Each day, my journey to school consisted of three public transportation routes and almost two hours of total travel time there and back.

Riding through the Prospect Corridor, I watched the road pass by through the bus window and was struck by the condition of the street and the trash lining the sidewalk. Eventually, after seeing the same scene every day, my patience ran out and I became angry. I remember thinking that my community deserved better. Where were the shops? The restaurants? The grocery stores? How can we take pride in our community when we don’t respect it enough to keep it clean?

So I literally took to the streets. I organized churches and my local youth group to coordinate a clean-up, and I haven’t stopped since trying to transform our community.

That pride in our community and desire for change led me to run for elected office. Now the youngest person elected to the City Council in Kansas City in 2011, I’ve never forgotten the bus rides that inspired my commitment to restoring the Prospect Corridor.

And just as my public service got started on a bus, our community’s future starts with public transportation. Fifteen years ago, our City Council established a resolution in support of a bus rapid transit line along the Prospect Corridor called Prospect MAX. Support was strong because we know that a bus line isn’t just about getting people from here to there: It’s a springboard for investment and economic development.

That means jobs. Creating a new bus line in our city helps put people to work. These folks aren’t just driving buses — they’re driving our economy. More consumers mean more business development — simple supply and demand.

There’s now a business association entirely devoted to the corridor. In an area that has long been classified as a food desert, a brand-new grocery store just opened and another is under construction. Beyond the economic benefits, think about what that means: Fresh produce means healthier families, fewer health complications, cheaper food, more efficient use of time and overall happier lives. That’s exactly what we strive for as public officials.

But just as I needed the support of my youth group and neighborhood churches to organize the community clean-up when I was 15, Kansas City needs support to be able to make Prospect MAX a reality.

The mayor and City Council, along with the residents of Kansas City, have pledged support for the Prospect MAX through strategic investment. We’ve committed funds through the city budget and general obligation bonds, but a project of this magnitude will also need federal funds. Programs like the Federal Transit Administration Small Starts program and the Surface Transportation Program are critical if this project is going to happen. Unfortunately, threats from the federal government to cut spending could put Prospect MAX at risk.

Last year, KCATA began the design and development process, and it is currently finalizing details. Plain and simple, we’re too far in the process for Washington to stand in the way.

Public transit isn’t a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats agree that we need to invest federal dollars in public transit. I’m counting on Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and Reps. Sam Graves and Emanuel Cleaver to fight for this project.

Without these resources, our bus rapid transit program is at risk, making job creation and economic development vulnerable as well. It would be a shame for partisan impasse to be the reason this project did not come to fruition. We’re at the edge of a real win for the people who need it most. Having guaranteed funding suddenly stripped away would be a huge loss for our community.

I hope that when our next generations watch our community go by from their KCATA bus window, they marvel at the grocery stores and movie theaters, restaurants and parks. I hope they’ll take pride in our community. I certainly do, and I hope the federal government does as well.

Jermaine Reed represents Kansas City’s Third District on the City Council.