Transit Action Network (TAN)

Advocates for Improved and Expanded Transit in the Kansas City Region.

Jackson County Transit Studies Update – Our Current Assessment

Posted by Transit Action Network on October 15, 2012

There was no surprise when Jackson County announced that it would not put a transit tax measure on the ballot this November. There are still too many unknowns, and a comprehensive package will take more time to develop. Better to do this right than fast.

One of the big unknowns is location of a downtown terminus for commuter rail. The Jackson County Commuter Corridors Alternatives Analysis for the I-70 and Rock Island corridors, which has been underway  for over a year, is currently on hold. The County would like to move the downtown terminus from Third and Grand, the option presented to the public in April, to Union Station. That’s good, because nearly everyone really wants commuter trains to go there, and that’s the location identified for commuter rail in Kansas City’s comprehensive plan, FOCUS.

The sticking point has been getting the Kansas City Terminal Railway to agree to allow commuter trains on their tracks.  These are the tracks that Amtrak trains already use.  Once the Terminal (and its owners, primarily the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific) agree they are open to that possibility, a capacity analysis will have to be done to determine if commuter trains can be sandwiched in among all the freight and Amtrak trains.

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that: whereas there’s some flexibility in freight train schedules, frequent delays for a commuter train could lead to loss of riders and failure of the whole commuter rail endeavor, so the railroads would have to commit to a pretty exacting schedule for the commuter trains.  As of this writing, a capacity analysis has not yet been done.

For commuter rail into Union Station to work, the railroads have to:

  • agree in principle that commuter trains on their tracks would be OK
  • complete a capacity analysis to determine that it’s feasible, and
  • develop detailed cost estimates.

Meanwhile, Jackson County continues to work on more-detailed cost estimates for getting trains to a terminal at Third and Grand.

While that’s going on, the US 71 Corridor Transit Study is proceeding in the first phase of its evaluation process.

In addition to studying the I-70, Rock Island, and US 71 corridors to identify a locally preferred alternative in each, Jackson County is fleshing out the rest of a county-wide transit and trails plan to take to the voters. 

That plan would:

  1. Fill in many of the bus transit needs in the county. All rail systems need a robust bus system to support them and Jackson County doesn’t have that outside of Kansas City, Missouri. MARC’s Smart Moves transit concept is the basis for filling in the missing transit links in the county, and Transit Action Network advocates Janet Rogers and Ron McLinden are working with a team that includes Jackson County, Kansas City, KCATA, and consultants to help define the transit part of the package.
  2. Develop a plan to connect and complete a Jackson County trails system. No longer would there be “trails to nowhere,” but “trails to everywhere.” The County has been working with trail and bike advocates, using MARC’s MetroGreen plan as the basis for the trails component.

Assuming voters approved a one-cent sales tax  — nobody at the County will verify that this is the target amount — that would raise only about $80 million per year. Given that limitation, the County will have to make some tough choices because they can’t afford to do everything that’s currently being considered.

Right now we consider the following as likely components of a trails and transit package to be submitted to the voters:

  • Probably one commuter rail line using the Kansas City Southern tracks in the I-70 corridor
  • Implementation of many of the service components of the region’s Smart Moves transit plan
  • Bus Rapid Transit (MAX style service) on Prospect
  • Transit connections linking municipalities throughout the County
  • Upgraded Express Bus Services in all three major corridors (including I-70, even if commuter rail is developed in that corridor)
  • Build out of a complete network of trails as envisioned in MetroGreen.

We anticipate seeing such a package submitted to the voters sometime in 2013, though perhaps not until the second half of the year.

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