Don’t get too cocky about KC streetcar expansion

birthdayAs its one-year birthday on Saturday approaches, the Kansas City downtown streetcar line looks like a full-scale success.

The bullet-point positives:

— Ridership for April as announced on Tuesday was 188,171. That’s third highest ever, behind only last July (233,683) and August (204,251).

— Businesses along the 2.2-mile route are embracing its ability to bring in customers, a 180-degree change for some.

— Development along and near the line is surging. More residential units and hotel rooms are being added.

— Extensions are being pursued both to the north and Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park, and to the south where the line would wind up near the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

As I noted last month, that southern extension should have a good chance of being approved and then opening in about five years.

But upon further reflection, that prediction sounds a bit too cocky. That’s also an attitude it appears some streetcar proponents seem to have embraced lately.

Everyone knows the streetcar should be bigger.

So this month it’s worth giving more attention to the speed bump that could derail even more success for the streetcar: self-selected Kansas City voters.

Currently, promoters of the midtown extension south from Union Station, down Main Street, through the Plaza and to near UMKC are trying to get people to apply for ballots if they live in a proposed transportation development district (TDD). It would be near the entire, expanded route. That part of the process (link to full schedule is here) runs through May 23.

Ballots would be mailed to qualified voters on June 20, due back on Aug. 1.

If voters approve formation of the TDD, only then could streetcar supporters get to the important step of local funding. It would come from a higher sales tax and increased property assessment imposed within special assessment zones in the TDD. (Map here.)

Voters would apply for ballots by Dec. 19. The ballots would be mailed on Jan. 9, due back on Feb. 20. A court would certify the election on March 2.

Yes, folks, that’s a long road to get to an ultimate decision. It’s basically the one that got the initial line off and running.

Still, the process is controversial and could get tripped up along the way, perhaps by factors no one is considering right now.

Never forget that a larger group of Kansas City voters in 2014 did kill a good streetcar expansion plan that would have included two transit spokes into eastern parts of the city.

Finally, voters throughout Kansas City also could get involved in putting up roadblocks to longer streetcar routes through two proposed (and unneeded) petition initiatives. Both will be on the August ballot.

Summed up: Yes, it’s 100 percent proper to celebrate the success of the first year of the downtown streetcar line.

But a lot of long, hard work is ahead to keep the momentum going.

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