Streetcar expansion met with opposition

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It will be up to a Jackson County judge to decide in the next few weeks if Kansas City's second streetcar proposal will move down the track.

State statute requires a court to decide whether a proposed streetcar transportation development district is legal and should be formed.

On Tuesday, the court heard a whole afternoon of opinions from residents. Nearly all of them at the public hearing said they did not like the $500 million idea.       

"Five-hundred million dollars is the tip of the iceberg. Look at the Atlanta project. They started out at $50 or $60 million a mile and now it's up to $100 million a mile. I mean they are seeing red until the next millennium," attorney for the streetcar opponents Sherry DeJanes, said.

The vocal group told the judge it amounted to an unfair tax scheme and that the city should have more reasonable priorities.

Downtown voters have already   approved a 2.2 mile streetcar track from the River Market to Union Station, but now the city wants to extend that with three more lines. One would run down Linwood to Prospect, another would run down Independence Avenue to Benton Boulevard and the third would continue on from Union Station, down Main Street, connecting to UMKC and its young students.

Rail supporters said it is what young people want for transportation.
"For Kansas City to continue to move forward and compete with cities of the same class and even one class above us, we need to have the same types of amenities that the future population is looking for,” Doug Stone said, the attorney for the city's proposed streetcar project. “And they make housing choices. In fact, someone was here testifying from UMKC and he's going to be deciding where he was to live after he graduates from college and we want him staying in Kansas City."
The second proposed streetcar phase would be paid for, in part, by a sales tax increase and property tax increases for those residents who live a third of a mile away from the routes.

Opponents argued the economic burden would be imposed on the poorest in the urban core. In mid-April, after a hearing, the court could decide if the streetcar moves ahead.

In order to make a second leg of a streetcar project happen, they must persuade a judge in early April that a proposed transportation development district is on solid legal footing. That district now will not include Brookside, but does take in downtown and a significant chunk of the East Side.

Voters in August would get the chance to approve forming the district. If that occurs, voters in November would decide whether to endorse a one-cent sales tax within the district plus higher assessments on property within one third of a mile of a streetcar line.

That final election would be the toughest of all. The sales tax will look steep to many voters. The higher property assessments could cost homeowners $100 or more a year. No increases take effect without matching federal funds.

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