Op Ed
August 24, 2007

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A skewed HNTB light rail study
by Clay Chastain

I call into question the orders against the voter-approved light rail plan and question why the city will not work with that plan.

The HNTB report was designed without authenticity to uphold the city’s prejudices against the existing light rail plan rather than challenge them.

• Why did the consultants from HNTB estimate Kansas City’s light rail system at between $53 million and $60 million per mile including padding it with a $350 million contingency, when Charlotte, North Carolina’s 11-mile light rail system is coming on line this year at a cost of only $44 million per mile?

• Why did the consultants from HNTB estimate the funds available from Kansas City’s 3/8-cent sales tax (after financing costs) at $337 million, when the city’s own Finance Department said a conservative estimate would be closer to $450 million?

• Why did the consultants from HNTB say that light rail could have a negative impact on Union Station and Liberty Memorial when common sense would say the opposite?

• Why did the consultants from HNTB present just the facts in their report rather than resorting to perpetuating opponents negative speculation about the existing light rail plan with bogus words like: “might even break the law,” “perhaps as much as,” “could fall more than a half-billion dollars short,” could have negative effects on the park’s historic structures,” and my favorite: “as close to a fatal flaw as you can get”?

• Why did HNTB not mention that the turn at 13th and Broadway was not a problem after all, and that over one-third of the proposed light rail route will be extremely low cost to build because that 12-mile section of the line operates on level parkland, level boulevard medians and level abandoned rail right-of-ways where there will be few encumbrances and almost no costs involved in relocating underground utilities?

• Why did consultants from HNTB say the Heart of America bridge did not have the capacity to carry a 100,000 lb. fully loaded light rail train with no other traffic on the bridge, when the HOA bridge is rated to carry a multitude of 40-foot long, 90,000 lb. semi-trucks that not only have a much more concentrated load than does a 100-foot-long light rail train, but can also impart huge extra downward forces on the bridge when these trucks are forced to brake on the bridge... something a light rail train would never have to do?

• Why did consultants from HNTB not reveal that a 60% match from the Federal Transit Administration is very possible (they cited a 50% match), not to mention that the Rail Starts Program, theoretically, still makes available an 80% match we could and should try for?

• Why did Mark Huffer of the ATA tell the city council on 10/16/07 that he has directed HNTB to stop analyzing “Chastain’s plan,” and conveniently begin focusing on deriving a new transportation plan to replace it, when that dubious $500,000 HNTB study was not to be completed until the spring of 2008?

• And why did the consultants from HNTB try to scare the public by suggesting running light rail through Penn Valley Park "might even break federal law" because the right-of-way thru the park would use a very small swath of park land, when, in fact, the light rail plan will not only add 20 times that much park land back to the park by removing all thru roads in the park, but the plan also provides the public access to the center of Penn Valley Park via a quiet, safe and non-polluting means of public transit that will help make Penn Valley Park one of the premier central city parks in the nation?

This is why?

1. The Kansas City Area transportation Authority (ATA), which runs the city’s diesel bus system that only 3.8% of the people use and which, as opposed to light rail, generates no economic benefit for the city, feels threatened. The ATA wants a second chance to ask voters to continue using the 3/8 cent sales tax (after it expires in 2009) to prop up a failing diesel bus system that has only seen an increase in ridership of 5% since getting an additional $23 million a year starting in 2003. This underhanded effort to try and take away the 3/8 cent sales tax from light rail development and divert it instead to lavish more tax subsidy on a broken down, inefficient and polluting diesel bus system, would result in not only a horrid return on taxpayer investment, but would also defy the already stated will of the voters.

Note: Light rail and the electric shuttle bus system will naturally spur ridership on the buses that feed it thus increasing bus revenues. increasing bus revenues due to light rail will result in less tax subsidy needed for the bus system. With the coming of a 27-mile light rail spine, Kansas City voters need only give the ATA the remaining 1/8-cent sales tax for 25 years with orders to run a more efficient bus system.

2. Special interest groups on Broadway have fought light rail for years. Mr. Nutter and company have never seen a light rail plan they liked. They do not own Broadway, the people do. The Broadway alignment is superior to the Main St./ Grand Blvd. corridor because not only are far more major cultural institutions and attractions located on Broadway than Main, including the hotel & convention center, the new performing arts center, Penn Valley Community College, and the heat of Westport, but the Broadway alignment also allows light rail to make a much more direct and convenient connection to future suburban commuter trains and AMTRAK service at Union Station.

3. The city feels embarrassed because it has no ownership in the existing light rail plan approved by voters. Consequently, the city and the ATA ordered a local engineering firm to rush its analysis of the plan and irresponsibly and unprofessionally pad construction cost numbers, underestimate income from the 3/ 8 cent sales tax, make incorrect calculations on the HOA bridge issue, and put the plan in the worst light possible using “coulds,” “mights” and “maybes”. This dishonest effort to tear down the people’s existing light rail plan and declare it “too unworkable” by way of a bogus consultant report ordered by the city and the ATA, was designed to scare the Kansas City voters into repealing the light rail plan they adopted and replace it with a city/ATA sponsored frou frou light rail/diesel bus plan.

I ask the community and the media to ask city leaders this question:

Why won’t the city work with the people’s existing light rail plan and make any reasonable changes, if necessary, to that plan to make all aspects of that plan possible and in compliance with the law?

This self-serving scheme to try and negate the results of a valid democratic election because opponents did not like the outcome will not only result in a set-back to light rail development in Kansas City, but will also burn away the voting process and the good will of the community.

Clay Chastain is a community activist who authored the light rail proposal passed by voters November 2006. He can be contact at claychastain@verizon.net


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