Jackson County still trying to get commuter rail tracks

By Joe Lambe

Jackson County officials are still talking with railroads about using their tracks for commuter rail, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders told reporters on Friday.

In his Friday state of the county address at Union Station, Sanders urged people to support changes like a county plan for a network of commuter rail, trails and more buses.

He noted the findings of a Brookings Institute Report that the metropolitan area ranked 94th nationwide on the ability to connect citizens to jobs through public transit.

And the car culture is fading, Sanders said. “Less than half of 17-year-olds nationwide are even seeking a driver’s license” … and want to live “where driving a car is a choice, not a necessity.”

The county plan has been on hold, with negotiations ongoing, since Kansas City Southern decided that commuter rail lines had to end at Union Station, county officials say.

But a study found that it would cost up to $1.6 billion to place the downtown connection there, while the originally planned downtown stop at 3rd Street and Grand Avenue would cost only $168 to $198 million.

Among routes under consideration was a Highway 71 corridor route running from downtown to Grandview. Other routes were one running east to Blue Springs and another largely along Highway 350 to Pleasant Hill.

In other comments, Sanders said his proposed 2014 budget will not include a property tax increase and noted that the current levy is 1 percent lower than when he took office in 2007.

The budget will include more than $6 million for renovating the courtroom annex in Independence, he said.

He also noted past accomplishments, like the renovation of the historic Jackson County Courthouse in Independence and taming the budget crisis he inherited by “doing more with less.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a former Jackson County prosecutor, introduced Sanders and noted that she gave him his start in public service when she hired him as an assistant prosecutor in 1994.

Neither she nor Sanders mentioned it Friday, but in the past they have: In the interview, she asked the ambitious young lawyer what job he wanted in the future and he said he wanted hers.

He later got it, becoming Jackson County prosecutor before he became county executive.

But McCaskill said Sanders owes her for much more. A woman she hired the same day later became his wife.

“Not only did I give Mike a job I gave him the best thing that ever happened to him,” she said.

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