City vote repealed in order to extend streetcar

Streetcar in traffic in downtown Kansas City at dusk.

The KCMO City Council removed a major roadblock to extending streetcar service toward south Kansas City January 18 by repealing a provision in an ordinance adopted by voters on August 8 following a successful initiative petition drive that required the city to prohibit its employees from causing the planning for any streetcar expansion or new fixed rail transit system without prior voter approval in a citywide election.

By John Sharp

The new measure, approved by a 10-2 vote, also specified that any southerly extension of the streetcar line from Union Station as proposed by the Kansas City Main Street Rail Transportation Development District (KCMSRTDD) and the proposed northerly extension from the City Market to the vicinity of the Missouri River and Berkley Riverfront Park would be considered part of the existing streetcar system and not require a citywide public vote.

Project development is now underway for a southerly extension to UMKC in the vicinity of 51st and Brookside Blvd. following approval earlier this month from the Federal Transit Administration.  Many south Kansas City leaders have long sought further extensions of the streetcar to Brookside, Waldo, the Dodson Industrial District and the Cerner Innovations Campus.

Forming the KCMSRTDD to help fund a southerly extension was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the proposed district in a mail-in election that ended August 1.

That was a week before citywide voters narrowly approved the proposal to require the city to ban its employees and agents from causing planning, purchase of land or construction for any expansion of the streetcar system or for any new fixed rail transit system, with a penalty for noncompliance of up to $1,000 a day.

A planning study for the northerly extension started nearly a year before voters approved the proposed ban.

Representatives of both the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the South Kansas City Alliance (SKCA) testified in favor of the new ordinance.

In my testimony on behalf of the SKCA, I noted there was very little publicity prior to the August 8 election about the provision in the proposal to prohibit the city from even planning for possible expansion of the streetcar system or any new fixed rail transit system without prior citywide voter approval, although I pointed out I did emphasize this before the election in this column.

How could the city realistically propose something to the voters if it was banned from planning what it proposed?

The new ordinance still requires a citywide public vote before the city or its employees and agents can cause the construction of any addition to or expansion of the streetcar system besides the northerly and southerly extensions now being planned or the construction of a new fixed rail transit system not to be connected to the streetcar system or the purchase of land for any such projects.

However, it does not appear to require a citywide public vote if expansions of the streetcar system or construction of any new fixed rail transit system are financed by transportation development districts, other public or private partners and/or federal grants, as long as city involvement is limited to planning and doesn’t include causing the construction of such projects or purchase of the land for them.

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