KC Council approves streetcar phase 2 expansion plan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - From litigation to legal wrangling, increasing taxes and a trip to Spain, the proposed streetcar development has been on the fast track of controversy since its inception more than three years ago.

On Thursday, Kansas City council members unanimously approved the streetcar phase 2 expansion plan, after hearing a recommendation from the advisory committee to accept approval for an additional eight miles of track to the developing starter track.

The additions will approve service along Main St., from the end of the current project, to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, along Independence Ave. from downtown Benton Blvd., and along Linwood from Main St. to Prospect Ave.

Thursday’s decision is the first of three key decisions that need to be made before it happens. “The second two will be just as challenging as any of the previous decisions have been,” said City Councilman Russ Johnson.

The second step will involve voters later this year who will approve creating a tax district and a sales tax increase. Since the very beginning critics have fought back even after phase one was approved and is now being built to be up and running next year. 

It all began in December of 2012 when a small group of Kansas City voters approved a measure to fund a proposed downtown streetcar line.

Since then, the proposal has weathered lawsuits, protests, delays and a sky rocking budget, turning an urban streetcar into the little engine that could.

One of those vocal opponents Clay Chastain sent this statement: "Mayor Sly James streetcar plan is an evolving disaster of one after thought after another!  The streetcar system he is cheerleading is not about moving people, but rather moving the mayor towards re-election. The voters of Kansas City are advised to wait for a real citywide transit plan... the light rail initiative Mayor James and Councilman Johnson are trying to block a vote on! "

Mayor James argues the three quarters of a billion dollars development along the downtown railroad line shows otherwise. 

“They have been proven wrong, and they’ve been proven wrong before the first train ever runs downtown,” Mayor Sly James said.

By accepting Thursday’s recommendation, the line will not expand the streetcar further south into Brookside; that is considered a victory for vocal opponents who worried it would change the character of the neighborhood, and objected to projected tax increases that would come with being part of the Transportation Development District surrounding the streetcar line.

In August, voters must approve the new Prospect MAX bus line as part of the city's second streetcar route proposal. The city grouped the two together as part of its strategy to expand its mass transit options.

The cost for the streetcar system and the Prospect MAX rapid transit bus line would total over $500 million.

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