Transit consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), guided by Mid-America Regional Council, Jackson County, Kansas City, and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, has been studying commuter needs in three corridors for nearly three years. Work on the I-70 and Rock Island corridors is about complete, while work on the third corridor, US-71, got started late and is farther behind.
Here’s what we expect tomorrow:
 – Commuter rail is in. Commuter rail will be recommended in the I-70 corridor since the underlying motivation for the AA was to find a way to make commuter rail workable.
 – Union Station is out. Union Station is out and Third and Grand is back in as the western terminus for commuter rail from eastern Jackson County. This is the site of the current KCATA park-and-ride lot and the end of the MAX and future Downtown Streetcar lines. Jackson County tried to work with Kansas City Terminal Railway to get access to Union Station, but latest indications are that KCT has not been interested in a capacity analysis on their tracks to see if it could be made to work — not even if Jackson County pays for the study. Union Station has been the preferred terminus from the beginning, so we expect to hear that some day commuter rail might go there. Realistically, that isn’t likely if hundreds of millions of dollars are spent going to Third and Grand.
 – No CEI. We had anticipated that the study would include a Cost-Effectiveness Index (CEI) for each rail corridor. However, indications are that it won’t. The CEI is a standard measure of costs and benefits (and thus of relative merit) used by the Federal Transit Administration in evaluating projects that compete for federal funding. Omission of this measure is disappointing in light of the emphasis PB’s Shawn Dikes put on it at the first stakeholder meeting. A rule of thumb in transit studies is that following FTA procedures is a good indication of whether a project makes sense – whether FTA funding is to be sought or not.
We suspect the Study Team knows without doing the calculations that commuter rail in this corridor isn’t cost-effective by FTA standards, and just doesn’t want to release unfavorable information – even though more than $1.2 million has been spent on the study. Our preference is to have the CEI as an objective comparison to recent commuter rail projects in other cities, and to thus have a better-informed electorate. Thus, we’re disappointed that PB hasn’t stayed true to its original focus on the importance of the CEI number.
 – There is political and popular support for transit. Unlike in 2007, there is political will to take a transit and trails package to the voters, even if we have to pay locally for most of any rail proposal. The AA might not support federal funding for rail, but people do a lot of things subjectively, and there’s a widely held perception that the Kansas City Region should have rail. Commuter rail might still be five years or more away – detailed environmental studies related to impacts on Kessler Park plus construction will take time.
 – The Package. We don’t expect to find out much tomorrow about the comprehensive package Jackson County will ultimately take to the voters late next year, but it’s safe to say it will include something for everyone:
- One line for commuter rail.
- A hefty trails plan that includes the old Rock Island right-of-way as a connection to the cross-state Katy Trail.
- Upgraded express bus service with more frequent peak hour trips, plus at least a few midday trips.
- New transit routes to connect the various cities, especially in Eastern Jackson County.
- Something significant for Kansas City. The city already pays for the region’s highest level of transit service, including two popular BRT routes, a Downtown Streetcar line expected to begin construction in 2013, and more than a dozen routes that operate 7 days a week. Jackson County has been talking about BRT on Prospect, and we’re interested to see what else the County has planned to entice KCMO residents.
Tuesday is the day to watch. The Stakeholder Advisory Panel will meet at MARC at 8:00 am to hear and respond to the recommendations for the corridors, followed by the Open House for the public at 140 Walnut in River Market between 4:00 and 6:00 pm.
So there you have it – what we think we know. We’re willing to be proven wrong, of course. But we can promise you one thing: It’s going to be One Interesting Tuesday.