Commuter rail linking Midtown, Downtown and Grandview dead for now


A proposed light rail route along 71 Highway has been shelved for now.

A chance for commuter rail linking Downtown, Midtown and Grandview appears dead, but such projects sometimes rise again.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders announced last week that his plan to put a sales tax for a massive transit plan to voters in August is over – derailed because Kansas City Southern decided the Downtown connection must be at Union Station.

The 71 Highway corridor commuter route through Midtown was being considered as part of the transit package but was not as far along as a route east to Blue Springs and another largely along 350 Highway to Pleasant Hill.

But Kansas City Southern controlled much of the rails and plans called for all the routes to connect to the River Market area.

About eight days ago, Sanders said Friday, Kansas City Southern decided the Downtown hub must be at Union Station.

But several railroad companies share those tracks and they are against taking commuter rail into the station, Sanders said.

Everyone involved in commuter rail has always thought Union Station would be the best place and hoped to someday get there, Sanders said.

“But the legal and engineering hurdles are so high it could be hundreds of millions of dollars and a decade before it becomes a reality,” he said.

For now, it looks like there will not be a county transit vote this year or possibly later unless Kansas City Southern changes its position or some kind of solution emerges, Sanders said.

“There is a chance the issues can be resolved,” he said. “We’re asking for any of the railroads to step forward with ideas.”

Meanwhile, there is still federal planning money involved for the transit package, which also includes miles of enhanced bus service and hiking trails.

Thomas Gerend, assistant transportation director at the Mid-America Regional Council, is working on plans that still include a study of the proposed 71 Highway corridor rail route.

Gerend said not to give up hope for regional commuter rail because of one massive setback.

“It’s unfortunate but in our experience looking around the country at these large scale projects, it’s kind of the norm,” he said.

He’s optimistic there is still a path forward, he said. “It may take a little longer.”

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