Kansas City street car voting deadline hits as divide remains among locals, business owners

Tuesday is the deadline for Kansas City voters to weigh in on a proposed $100 million streetcar project, connecting a two-mile stretch between Union Station and City Market.

If approved by voters, the project should be complete by 2015, according to Kansas City council members.

Riders won't have to pay to use the system, but voters are being asked to approve a 1 cent sales tax, as well as an increase in property taxes.

Only 700 voters who live along the two mile stretch registered in time to vote on the measure. So far, 498 have already returned their mail-in ballots, according to the Kansas City Election Board.

The rest are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday, in order for results to be certified and announced Wednesday afternoon.

Proponents of the streetcar project, including the Regional Transit Alliance, argue this is Kansas City's best chance to create a modern transit system and a vibrant downtown, years behind more progressive cities that already have a similar transportation system in place.

"People won't have to pay for parking, won't have to pay for gas or spend time driving back and forth," explained Kite Singleton, who is a member of the Regional Transit Alliance. "I think this will make Kansas City really vibrant and keep people together in the town centers that the city has already invested so much into."

Opponents worry by making the ride free for patrons, downtown businesses and taxpayers could end up having to subsidize millions in maintenance on the streetcar.

Sue Burke, the owner of KC Air Filter, says the money would be better spent on regular city upkeep. She worries most about the impact to her customers, who will have trouble parking when the streetcar is constructed in front of her building.

"They're buying 20-30 air filters. They need to pull up a truck to load those up," Burke said. "There won't be any room. Then you think about the disruption during construction."

Burke said council members told her they'd try to minimize the impact to her business by only forcing it to close for two-to-three weeks.

"I told them, 'I can't afford to be closed for one day,'" Burke explained.

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