A comprehensive transit proposal for commuter rail, express bus service and trails in Jackson County is progressing toward a possible August election.
That date is dependent on successful negotiations with railroads that own two corridors key to building the system, County Executive Mike Sanders said recently said on the KCUR “Up to Date” radio program.
The existing corridors of about 43 miles could cost $15 million per mile to develop, but if the county couldn’t use them costs could balloon to $100 million per mile, he said.
Sanders said timing of the election is important to take advantage of $50 billion in federal money that is being appropriated for transportation grants.
He said that as Congress debates the national debt and priorities, that model is likely to change.
“The last time in the foreseeable future we have a shot at bringing those dollars back to Kansas City,” Sanders said.
A one-cent sales tax is being considered for construction and operation of the system.
While those negotiations with the Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads are underway, consultants and planners are meeting with city officials and residents to talk about routes and services of the system.
A meeting for Raytown and Lee’s Summit area residents was held Jan.23 at Unity Village to discuss ideas for five “activity centers” that would be expected to develop around eventual rail stops along the former Rock Island Railroad in southeast Jackson County.
Stops would be at downtown Raytown, at Missouri 350 and Noland Road, View High Drive and Interstate 470, Greenwood and Pleasant Hill.
Planners foresee variations of mixed use projects of housing, commercial and retail at each location.
Residents added their suggestions, such as moving the View High terminal farther south to avoid it being hidden by a bluff and creating a public river access for recreation. A final version of those plans is to be ready by April for more public comments.
Development of the Rock Island corridor isn’t imminent; the overall plan being worked on by the county anticipates several phases.
Phase 1 in the East Corridor would include diesel multiple units, or self propelled rail cars along the Kansas City Southern Rail Line, adjacent to I-70, with stations in Oak Grove, Grain Valley, Blue Springs, Independence and the River Market. The Southeast corridor, which includes Lee’s Summit, would have enhanced express bus service along the Missouri 350 corridor, extending the routes to Pleasant Hill.
It would include development of a recreational trail along the adjacent Rock Island Railroad from the Truman Sports Complex to Pleasant Hill to connect with the Katy Trail.
In Phase 2, the diesel powered cars would run on rails between the Leed’s Junction along the Rock Island Corridor to I-470 and View High Drive.
The construction cost for the East DMU line is estimated at $327 million to $434 million and the Southeast line about $170 million to $ 225 million.
The lines could eventually be extended to east Odessa east or south to Pleasant Hill. The county also is studying another corridor along U.S. 71 and Bruce Watkins Drive.
John Ivey, who developed Lee’s Summit business parks, said he supported the transit plan.
“We really need to kick start Lee’s Summit and eastern Jackson County,” Ivey said.
Tom Townsend, a member of the Lee’s Summit Railroad Task Force, said he couldn’t speak for all everyone, but said many residents along the Rock Island corridor are resigned to seeing some development of the system.
“There’s still anxiety, they don’t want anything if they had their choice,” Townsend said.
In the 1990s, Lee’s Summit fought and lost a court battle with the Surface Transportation Board (which governs railroads) to require an environmental impact study of a proposal at that time to rebuild and use the route.
About 15 Lee’s Summit subdivisions, large and small, lie along the corridor, with some houses within 30 feet of the former tracks. In several locations Lee’s Summit streets have been paved over tracks.
Townsend said he would like to see measures taken to protect those closest to the corridor, such as fencing or sound barriers.
He said he thought the plan for a trail at least provides open space.
“It is much better than freight trains,” Townsend said.