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KC mayor talks with county about light rail

by Alan McArthur
Landmark reporter

On Monday, Mark Funkhouser, Kansas City mayor, asked Platte County Commissioners to consider a new proposal to place a half cent sales tax on the ballot in November to pay for a new regional light rail system.

Funkhouser said he hopes to get the three counties that Kansas City covers on the Missouri side to place the initiative on the ballot for November. The plan would affect the counties of Platte, Clay and Jackson.

According to Funkhouser, the ballot language would set up a panel of elected officials from the counties as well as the mayors from cities the light rail would pass through. The panel would act as the governing body for the regional light rail proposal.

A measure in the Kansas Legislature last year would have allowed the counties of Wyandotte and Johnson to participate in the regional plan. The measure however, was stalled and not approved.

Funkhouser told the commissioners that the plan would travel a distance of 40 miles on the Missouri side from the airport to Union Station, from Union Station to Independence, and from Union Station to Lee's Summit. If the Kansas counties participated in the program another 40 miles could be built from Union Station to Olathe and from Union Station to the Village West.
Funkhouser said he estimates the system will cost about $50 million a mile to build the line.

If the region builds the entire 80 miles the cost for the project will be around $4 billion. A 40 mile system only on the Missouri side would cost approximately $2 billion.

The regional plan from Funkhouser only has the general destinations and does not list actual routes through the city.

“You have to know how much money you'll have before we can talk about a route,” said Funkhouser.

Funkhouser did provide a general plan for where the line might go. He said that if the city wants to develop an area then the line would go along streets, but in areas that are already developed the line could be more isolated, such as along the I-35 corridor through Johnson County.

“It could go down the median of I-35,” said Funkhouser. “I see I-35 as being about as developed as it is going to be.”

Funkhouser said they hope to receive about 30 percent of the funding for the proposal from the federal government.

Betty Knight, Platte County presiding commissioner, pointed out the county did a survey recently that asked residents specifically about a regional light rail plan.

According to the survey results, 35 percent of people strongly agree with participating in a regional light rail system. Another 26 percent agreed with participation. However, 20 percent disagreed with participation in the program.

Funkhouser said he is determined to at least get a starter line built in Kansas City.

Knight asked how the Kansas City Council felt about working on a regional light rail plan.

“Some of the council is conflicted about killing the (Clay) Chastain plan,” said Funkhouser. “I still think it was the right thing to do. There were so many things wrong with that plan. He wanted to use $350 million to do $1.6 billion worth of work.”

Funkhouser explained he wanted to have the board made up of elected officials and not appointed people who citizens would not know how to contact.

“I want the presiding commissioner on the board,” said Funkhouser. “Mostly, I didn't want appointed folks.”

He said the board would be made up of about 10 people from Missouri and 10 people from Kansas.

The commissioners further discussed how the ballot language would need to be decided upon in May or June of this year to be finalized by August and on the ballot in November.


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