Activist expects to fight for LRT on this year’s fall ballot
There are few individuals who have been fighting so hard for transit improvements as Clay Chastain, who has made his mark over the years on Kansas City. In 2006, he almost single-handedly organized a referendum for a 27-mile light rail line through the city, and won, surprising the city council, which had done very little to support his effort. Lacking funding for or interest in the project, the city council repealed the plan in 2007. But Mr. Chastain struck back, putting a referendum for a 3/8¢ sales tax on the ballot last November, with the new goal of building a $1 billion north-south rail line. Nevertheless, citizens of the city were some of the only in the country to reject transit funding on election night 2008, and by the middle of February, Kansas City’s Regional Transit Alliance had abandoned the light rail plan for a commuter system, under the assumption that such a network would be more pleasing to the area’s population.
Mr. Chastain is currently suing the city for its abandonment of the plan approved by voters in 2006, but even if he wins, he still lacks a funding source to make his project viable.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Clay Chastain is back, ready to play the game again and get light rail rolling in his city no matter the cost. He’ll be gathering signatures beginning in mid-May with the goal of putting a 9-mile light rail plan on the ballot this November. The new referendum would also support a 3/8¢ sales tax and build a $750 million line running from the Kansas City Zoo to the City Market, via Country Club Plaza. BRT routes would connect to the line at its northern terminus. His plan also suggests that gondolas be built between Union Station – on the proposed LRT route – and the Liberty Memorial. This plan is similar to the proposal put before voters last year, though that project extended 5 miles more into the northern suburbs of the city, across the Missouri River, towards the airport.
I have my doubts about whether the city’s citizens have a change of heart about a plan that’s not much different from what they rejected last year. But the project is a good one, providing connections to the city’s biggest destinations and – with the exception of those crazy gondolas – not a Springfield Monorail fantasy. Kansas City’s citizens would be getting a good deal if they agreed to go forward with the plan.
Yet the city council’s lack of support for the project – really an expression of their manifest disapproval for the independence streak of Mr. Chastain – doesn’t help matters much and certainly won’t improve the transit services in their metropolis. It would be helpful for everyone involved to simply join forces in favor of better transit. This political conflict is pointless.