Transit Action Network (TAN)

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

Sanders Renews Commitment to Public Transit

Posted by Transit Action Network on November 5, 2012

County Executive Mike Sanders left it until the end in his annual State of the County Address last Friday, but he left no doubt that he’s still committed to public transit.

Speaking to a standing room only crowd in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Board Room at Union Station, Sanders spoke with pride of guiding principles for his administration, one of which is that we don’t borrow from the promise of the future to meet the needs of today.  Jackson County balanced the budget without raising taxes, he said, and is one of only six Missouri counties with a Double-A bond rating.

In introducing Sanders, Kansas City Mayor Sly James spoke optimistically of the election currently underway to fund a Downtown Streetcar.  Construction begins next year, James said, with fare-free operation beginning in 2015.  Though he didn’t say so explicitly, the Streetcar project might not be underway at all were it not for Sanders’ leadership on regional transit.

An introductory video emphasized the close working relationships between Jackson County and the mayors of the county’s principal municipalities.  Transit, specifically plans for a comprehensive regional transit system, was cited as one of the areas of common agreement.

Sanders invoked inspiring imagery a number of times during his speech.  We face new and serious challenges, he said, but America was built on courage and imagination, not fear.

Sanders spoke of expansion of the existing County trail system, and said extension of that system into Kansas City would begin next year with strong support from Kansas City Councilwoman Cindy Circo.

Finally he got to transit.

We meet in an iconic structure, he said, one that illustrates the power of transportation to connect us.  No initiative has the potential to shape our future more than to build a modern, efficient public transit system.  Sanders compared building a comprehensive transit system in Jackson County to the Interstate Highway System that President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched in 1955.

Such a system is needed to meet Jackson County’s transportation needs, he said, and it must be our next great enterprise to build a system of rail, buses, and trails so future generations will have greater choice in how they get around.  Young people want and demand rail and other public transit options.

Sanders also cited a recent Brookings Institution report that ranked Kansas City 94th out of 100 urban areas in its ability to provide its citizens access to jobs and other opportunities by transit.

The process of constructing a World Class public transit system is complicated, Sanders said — an obvious reference to current discussions with the freight railroads over use of their tracks for getting commuter trains to Union Station.

We need to invest the time it takes to plan a great system, he said.  It’s not about getting transit done fast, it’s about getting it done right.

Through an unprecedented collaboration, Jackson County Mayors are in agreement, and are speaking with one voice.  A solution on transit is within reach, and it’s clear that Mike Sanders’ commitment is still there.

On reflection, it seems notable that Sanders did not make any specific reference to commuter rail.  Nor did he mention a possible target date for submitting a Trails and Transit funding measure to the voters, perhaps because there are a lot of details yet to be worked out.  (See our blog post, Jackson County Transit Studies Update – Our Current Assessment)  Speaking with reporters afterward, he mentioned August or November next year as possible dates.  That’s consistent with information we’ve had for several months.

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