Keep KC’s momentum going: Expand streetcar, build new KCI

streetccThe smashing victories of a large bond issue and special sales tax Tuesday revealed again that Kansas Citians believe in a vibrant future for their city. Now what?

Reducing the city’s way-too-high violent crime rate is on the list, as is building better public schools.

But on the infrastructure front, two major projects stand out.

— Expand the successful downtown streetcar line through midtown to the Country Club Plaza.

This priority will be driven mostly by the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, other transit boosters and Mayor Sly James — who provided excellent leadership for voter passage of the $800 million bond package.

— Build a new Kansas City International Airport terminal.

This endeavor will be led by James, City Council member Jolie Justus and the business community.

Expanding the streetcar will take about 11 months to play out in an unusual voting schedule. First, Kansas Citians close to the proposed line must form a transportation development district. Then they must agree to pay for much of the streetcar project by endorsing a higher sales tax and higher property assessments.


Prediction: The streetcar will get longer, thanks in large part to the positive buzz around the initial downtown line.

In turn, this will help drive redevelopment up and down Main Street, and in nearby neighborhoods, for years to come.

Alas, the line isn’t expected to start operating until 2022.

The KCI project has been stalled for almost a year and its prospects for success are dimmer.

James pulled it off the city’s high priority list when polling showed a large number of Kansas Citians opposed changing the current “convenient” set-up at KCI.

James, Justus and others contend a new KCI could keep much of the same beloved convenience while introducing Kansas Citians to what a major, modern airport can provide.

While tax dollars won’t pay for the improvements, voters would have to endorse hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds. That could be a high hurdle to overcome, again given the bizarre love for a 45-year-old airport.

Still, the success of Tuesday’s ballot items give Kansas City a chance to continue the momentum of being a better place to live.

Expanding the streetcar line and building a new KCI are two good ways to do that.


9 Thoughts.

  1. When you look at KCI’s peer set of airports (i.e. Indianapolis), KCI is ranked unusually low and all of the top rated airports are single terminals, which is a clear indication that a single terminal can still be convenient and provide a quality experience. Too many Kansas Citians confuse KCI with LAX, LaGuardia and other major city airports that fly tens of millions more passengers per year. It’s like going to Manhattan, KS at rush hour and commenting that the traffic in Manhattan is so much better than Kansas City. Well, of course it is, not a comparable situation. I’m hopeful that airport supporters will do a good job of laying out the facts: who are KCI’s peers, what are we looking at for typical check-in & security wait times, what new conveniences (like close in parking) would a single terminal offer that we don’t have now, etc. There is a great argument to be made for a new KCI, but the City of Kansas City led one of the worst campaigns I’ve ever seen to make their argument for something so I’m not surprised they weren’t able to build support. My guess is the business community will do a much better job and will be able to paint a clearer picture.

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