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Streetcar expansion’s future remains unclear

The push to expand Kansas City’s streetcar from Union Station to UMKC moved forward over the weekend, with residents electing seven proponents of the project to serve on the newly elected streetcar expansion board.

Only residents living in the recently formed Transportation Development District (TDD), which extends from the Missouri River down to 53rd St., and from State Line Rd. to Campbell Rd., cast votes in Saturday’s election.

Altogether, the district houses nearly 35,000 residents. Less than 3,000 showed up to vote.

Connect KC, a local organization advocating for the streetcar’s expansion, supported all seven candidates elected to serve on the board. Mayor Sly James and other community leaders also endorsed Connect KC’s successful candidates.

Eight unsuccessful candidates supported the project but did not receive endorsements from Connect KC.

Supporters of Modern, Affordable, Regional Transit KC (BeSMART KC), a local organization opposed to the streetcar expansion, supported four candidates running for seats on the TDD board.

While voters did not elect any of these four candidates, the organization isn’t ready to give up the fight just yet. 

After the results of the mail-in election, when residents voted to approve the creation of the TDD, BeSMART KC announced its founder, local attorney Sherry DeJanes, is suing the State of Missouri, Secretary of State John Ashcroft and all 50 sponsors of the streetcar extension petition.

The group posted on its website, asking for anyone living in the TDD who “had a difficult time getting a ballot to vote or did not get to vote” to contact them. In the same statement, the group laid out its reason for filing the suit.

“…the TDD voting process was too difficult and the eligible voters too targeted,” said the organization, adding that Saturday’s unique election “imposes onerous procedural requirements which handicap the exercise of their (Voters) franchise to vote.”

The group’s biggest argument against the streetcar expansion centers on taxes and real estate assessments.The burden of paying for the streetcar expansion, BeSMART KC argues, will fall on businesses, residents and nonprofit organizations within the TDD.

The streetcar’s current route (highlighted in blue) extends from the River Market to Union Station. Plans are in the works to expand the streetcar south towards UMKC (highlighted in red) and north further into the River Market (highlighted in purple). (Source kcstreetcar.org)
The streetcar’s current route (highlighted in blue) extends from the River Market
to Union Station. Plans are in the works to expand the streetcar south towards
UMKC (highlighted in red) and north further into the River Market (highlighted in
purple). (Source kcstreetcar.org)

This group calls these taxes “grossly unfair.”

The project’s supporters say the benefits of expanding the streetcar to UMKC far outweigh the costs, citing a 2016 survey of downtown businesses that found, “97 percent of businesses say the streetcar has had a positive impact and 80 percent say they have experienced a positive revenue change.”

The seven-member TDD board will have authority to propose ways to generate revenue, including real estate assessments and taxes. TDD voters must approve any new taxes via a mail-in election.

These future elections regarding taxes and revenue generation are the third and final step in getting the expansion off the ground.

Despite the progress made over the weekend, the project’s future remains unclear.

While DeJanes’s lawsuit could take months to play out in court, City Council will have to figure out how to implement a measure approved by voters in August. This measure prohibits the city from moving forward on streetcar expansion without approval from a citywide vote.

For now, the project continues to exist only in the TDD’s domain, but supporters and critics alike know the project’s future relies on support from the city.

Candidates elected to serve on the TDD board include David Johnson, Cindy Circo, Jeff Krum, Ruben Alonso III, Jan Marcason, Crissy Dastrup and Leonard J. Graham.

 

sd6w8@mail.umkc.edu

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