April 27, 2007
likely a priority for
Mayor-elect Mark Funkhouser clearly expects that transportation, including light rail development, will be a front-burner issue during his tenure as Kansas City’s top elected official.
In an interview with eKC online a few days before he and members of the new city council are to be sworn into office on May 1, Funkhouser confirmed that one of the first orders of business will be to create a new city council standing committee to be called the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“All forms of transportation have to be integrated,” Funkhouser said. “Plus, light rail is a huge issue right now. So are biking and walking. Aviation and new parkways such as in the Northland will also come before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
The other three city council standing committees will be Finance and Audit, Neighborhoods and Public Safety, and Planning and Zoning. Funkhouser said committee assignments for each of the 12 council members would be announced prior to the swearing in ceremonies on May 1. Each committee will have five members.
“The mayor and council will be sworn in at 9:30 a.m. in the Council Chamber and then they will have a brief legislative session immediately following to adopt a resolution, including the new standing rules,” said City Clerk Millie Crossland, noting that the amended standing rules would incorporate the new committee structure.
eKC online has learned that Northland Councilman Ed Ford will be named chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Ford, who represents the 2nd District at-Large, describes himself as a “light rail advocate, absolutely.”
Ford had suggested at campaign forums prior to the city elections that the city government needed a transportation committee. Funkhouser, said Ford, “brought it up to me. So we were thinking alike.”
Ford said that in addition to bus and rail public transit, aviation and walking and biking trails, he believed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would also oversee roads and bridges, catch basins and new parkways and boulevards in the rapidly developing Northland. Ford said the committee would also deal with the metal plates over street excavations, which have irritated motorists for years.
Light rail development moved from the back burner to the front burner at city hall with the passage by voters last November of a light rail initiative and dedicated three-eights-cent sales tax for 25 years, which was proposed by activist Clay Chastain.
Funkhouser’s stance on light rail during the election campaigns was to urge that Kansas City work with suburban communities in developing a regional plan and funding source. Since the Kansas City elections, Funkhouser has been in contact with Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh, Kansas City, Kansas/Wyandotte County CEO Joe Reardon, and Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders. The four leaders have agreed to hold regular monthly meetings, as well as to cooperate through the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC).
Ford said that he and some other members of the new city council believe that, in addition to the metropolitan approach favored by Mayor-elect Funkhouser, it is important to deal with the light rail route and funding plan already approved by Kansas City voters, which has the force of a city ordinance.
“I think we have two years to figure it out,” Ford said, noting that the three-eights-cent sales tax approved by voters for light rail development takes effect in 2009. “And I think within two years Mark (Funkhouser) will know whether a regional approach is possible.”
At a recent light rail panel discussion led by Thomas M. Hoenig, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Hoenig said he wanted “tracks on the ground” within five years. Also, the panel agreed on a 12-mile, first phase route from the Country Club Plaza to Union Station to Downtown and across the Missouri River to North Oak and Vivion Road in the Northland.
To achieve that expedited timetable, it was agreed to proceed with that first phase of construction without reliance on federal matching funds. Chastain and others agreed that the proceeds of the light rail sales tax, an estimated $750 million, would be sufficient to build, operate, equip and finance the first phase route.
The panel viewed the new sense of urgency in Washington concerning environmental and energy issues as one that could increase federal funding for new and extended rail transit systems.
Still, some opinion makers in Kansas City — the latest being Sun columnist Steve Rose — contend that the Chastain plan, or light rail altogether, should be scrapped. In an April 24 column, Rose said Johnson County and the Kansas Legislature would never agree to a regional approach to light rail.
With that background, the Urban Society of Kansas City and the American Institute of Architects-Kansas City are cosponsoring a half-day light rail workshop Sat., April 28, the purpose of which is “to arm a core group of citizens with the facts concerning light rail and to draft an alternative to the ‘Chastain’ plan.”
Though unable to attend, Ford said, “They have as much right as Clay (Chastain) to come up with their own plan, get signatures, put it on the ballot and sell it to the voters.”
The Kansas City Aviation Department, which operates Kansas City International Airport and Wheeler Downtown Airport, sees no problem with oversight by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, rather than the current Aviation Committee.
“As far as light rail is concerned, we’re in the process of developing a new KCI master plan that we prepare every 10 years,” said Joe McBride, marketing manager. “You take out a crystal ball and gaze into the future. If light rail is becoming closer to reality, we’ll look at integrating it into KCI’s future.”
An unanswered question is how light rail to KCI would affect the car rental and taxicab/limousine businesses at the airport.
Tom Bogdon is a Kansas City-based freelance journalist. He can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other eKC online articles on light rail by Bogdon are at www.kcactive.com/news/newscomm/newscomm2007_02_02.htm,
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