Commuter Rail? Maybe-Maybe Not – – – $1.8 million to Study Transit Corridors!
Posted by Transit Action Network on December 22, 2010
December 21,2010 MARC announced that the Kansas City Region was awarded $1.8 million by the FTA for ‘Alternatives Analysis’ studies for transit in three corridors. Two have been identified as having potential for commuter rail — they are part of the ‘Regional Rapid Rail’ system promoted by Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders — and the third has potential for modern streetcar in the downtown to Crown Center corridor.
The media are jumping to commuter rail conclusions based on expectations from Sanders’ innumerable public presentations. In fact, while the studies will look at commuter rail they will also look at other options such as express bus, BRT and even light rail. This is different from the recent ‘Commuter Corridors Study’ in which MARC allowed commuter rail to be the preferred solution. In an FTA Alternatives Analysis all the transit modes have to be treated in an equivalent manner. The MARC press release http://bit.ly/gial1a is objective and doesn’t promote a particular alternative. Stories in the Star http://bit.ly/ghL0Mj and KC Business Journal http://bit.ly/dFDt3r jump right to commuter rail conclusions.
The bottom line for now is that press reports about this grant feed unrealistic public expectations. The FTA recently changed its evaluation process and that is partly why rail is being considered again in these corridors. Previous analysis along the I-70 corridor resulted in express buses as the preferred alternative. At first glance commuter rail looks remarkably (and seductively) cost effective. With closer scrutiny however, the realities of this plan suggest that federal funding will be difficult to secure. Unless the changes to the FTA evaluation process make a huge difference, express buses will likely come out on top for the two suburban corridors.
Meanwhile, the ‘downtown streetcar’ corridor study will restart work in preparation for rail in the most promising corridor for federal funding in the region.