Friday, Oct. 19 2012 8:28AM
Mayors support commuter rail concept
Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads on panel of area leaders
By Russ Pulley
Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads joined other mayors this week and Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders for a panel discussion of regional issues.
The event billed as the first Regional Experts in Area Leadership luncheon Oct. 17 was sponsored by the Independence Chamber of Commerce at Arrowhead Stadium.
Mayors from other larger Jackson County cities took part: Sly James of Kansas City, Don Reimal of Independence, Carson Ross of Blue Springs, David Bower of Raytown and Steve Dennis of Grandview.
They each briefly introduced themselves and said they were developing good friendships and working relationships. They said their cities need to develop closer relationships with St. Louis and Springfield to lobby the Missouri legislature so it focuses on helping urban regions because they will be the generators of jobs and advancement for the state. Particularly the cities need help with state laws to stay competitive with Kansas, they said.
Rhoads remarked that he came to the luncheon expecting to hear from experts.
“Imagine my shock when I saw my name up here,” Rhoads joked.
Sanders led off discussion after a commercial was shown extolling the benefits of commuter rail. He said recent economic problems are not a good reason to delay decisions on building commuter rail.
His administration is developing a plan for commuter rail in Jackson County using existing rail corridors which would link with Kansas City’s street car plan, bus routes and bike trails.
The long-term hope would be to add other counties in the metropolitan area to the system.
Sanders reminded the large crowd of chamber members that infrastructure for great economic progress was built during the 1930s during the Great Depression. In the 1950s the federal highway system was built because of foresight of that generation of leaders.
“It’s the right time to start thinking big, there’s nothing wrong with thinking big,” Sanders said. “It’s all about growth, jobs and the economy. About what we are doing to keep moving forward.”
Sanders said commuter rail will be necessary for this region to be competitive and functional in the global economy.
Baby boomers will be driving less and younger residents, 36 and below, are showing a preference for urban living and using mass transit instead of cars, he said.
James said “Millennials” want to have mass transit available. When asked if they’d rather have a car or the Internet, choose the Internet.
“That’s their world,” he said. They view a car payment as a drag on housing, food, student loans and other necessities, he said.
He said the county needs to start now on getting mass transit ready for those two groups.
Rhoads agreed, saying that creating a regional transit system is a piece of stopping “brain drain.”
He noted his son, a lawyer, recently decided to take the bar exam, in Colorado, instead of starting a practice in this area.
“We lose their energy and enthusiasm,” Rhoads said.
Reimal noted that the area has a lot of track and right-of-way already in place that could be part of the system.
Ross, Dennis and Bower said commuter rail hubs near their downtowns, which could help with revitalization.
“It’s going to revolutionize my Main Street,” Dennis said.
They also talked about projects going on in their communities.
“The take away,” Rhoads said, “is things are starting to happen in Jackson County.”