City Hall sits directly across 12th Street from the Jackson County Courthouse, a distance of not much more than 100 yards. Yet recent cooperation between the two governmental entities has been at a minimum, with the encouraging exception of a new regional jail.
Now there are signs that Jackson County, together with the Northland neighbors of Clay County and Platte County, have been quietly working together on a commuter rail transit system from the Missouri suburbs converging on Union Station, as referred to this week by blogger Tony Botello.
Yet Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and his allies have been careful to avoid entanglements with the current Kansas City mayor and City Council, and wisely so, given Kansas City government’s dismal performance in recent years on transit and other issues.
Yet cooperation between city and suburbs on transit improvements is clearly essential if anything is ever going to be accomplished. Building a modern transit system involves a lot more than drawing lines on a map. For one thing, the Feds won’t even consider funding a half-baked plan. Neither, for that matter, will the voting public.
And since last November’s city government “light rail” loser was soundly rejected by voters, there seems to be a little common sense seeping into rail transit planning at City Hall. No longer is there knee-jerk acceptance of costly, cumbersome “light rail” schemes.
Instead, Councilman Russ Johnson and his Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have discovered Modern Streetcars, an affordable, flexible form of rail transit suitable to city streets and even, perhaps, an airport route. Funds for engineering a streetcar starter line from River Market to Union Station were even included in a Kansas City grant application under the federal TIGER stimulus program, thanks to U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
Even though there is no indication that Kansas City and suburban officials have been coordinating their transit planning, there seems to be a fortunate synergy developing in that both plans seem to be aimed at developing a regional transportation hub at our magnificent and functional Union Station.
Jackson County’s Sanders and his suburban allies have wisely listened as Kansas City Southern Railroad executive Warren Erdman and TranSystems rail planner Jim Terry have pointed to the availability of existing commuter rail lines to Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit and Grandview.
In the Greater Kansas City of the future, even Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas might be included in a regional rail network that would be a clean, green streamlined system to take us to work, shop or play throughout our sprawling metropolitan area.
Let’s get going, Kansas City!