Kansas City’s downtown streetcar line has so far proven popular among riders, but difficult to take beyond its initial 2.2 miles. Last week, however, voters approved a new taxing district that could allow the route to expand to the University of Missouri Kansas City.
The vote was certified after a mail-in ballot process, and will form an expanded streetcar taxing district beyond downtown and through midtown along Main Street, the Kansas City Star reports. The sales tax surcharge in downtown covers the line’s operating expenses, allowing passengers to ride for free — an unusual arrangement that has likely boosted its early ridership figures.
But last week’s vote was only the first of several needed to approve expansion south from Union Station to 51st and Brookside Streets, a length of about 3.75 miles. Voters still need to elect a streetcar district board and approve the taxes needed to fund the estimated $227 million expansion.
Complicating matters, streetcar opponents have their own petition initiative, which will be voted on by the public on Tuesday. That measure looks to prohibit any planning or construction of an expanded streetcar system without citywide voter approval, which could inhibit the expansion.
And complicating matters even more, notorious local transit activist Clay Chastain has floated his own petition initiative, also up for a vote Tuesday. That measure seeks to hike sales taxes for a rail system in its own right-of-way, which Chastain sees as preferable to streetcars moving through traffic. Chastain has sponsored at least nine LRT proposals so far, nearly all of which have been defeated by voters. The exception was one 2006 proposal, which was eventually repealed by City Council on the grounds that it was unworkable and unrealistic.
UPDATE: In a blow to the extension, Kansas City residents voted 51 percent to 49 percent in support of the petition initiative from streetcar opponents. Voters rejected Chastain’s initiative.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.