How far will the streetcar go?

By JOE JAROSZ
Northeast News
March 5, 2014

Kansas City residents and community members gathered Thursday, Feb. 27, to discuss the area’s future.

At the Don Bosco Senior Center, community members met with representatives of Kansas City’s Streetcar System to discuss rail extensions and connection points for the northeast area. NextRail KC is developing a plan to expand the starter line built in downtown Kansas City and prioritize the corridors for future implementation. The expansion is currently looking at three corridors: Independence Avenue east of the River Market, 31st Street/Linwood Boulevard east from Main Street and Main Street plus which would extend the south end of the starter line at Pershing Road to beyond 51st Street on the Country Club Right of Way.

The NextRail KC project team is currently studying, with the help of the public, potential stop locations and rail lengths. At Thursday’s public input meeting, first district councilman Scott Wagner told the crowd of about 50 people they’re going to have an important discussion on the roll the Northeast neighborhood will play in the expansion of the streetcar.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the politics but we want you to discuss what’s good for the Northeast,” Wagner said.

As a former northeast resident, Wagner said there was a common phrase he constantly heard. He said people routinely asked why northeast would get left behind with city developments.

“This is an opportunity to not get left behind with the biggest economic tool the city has ever seen,” Wagner said. “Whether northeast wants to be a part of it or doesn’t is up to you.”

Wagner made sure to emphasize that before anything happens, “before a piece of rail gets laid down” decisions will be made based upon how much federal money the city will get. Councilman Russ Johnson said President Barack Obama is pushing for more projects like the Kansas City streetcar.

“This isn’t a passing thought,” Johnson said. “This is happening all across the country. We need you to decide what you want your neighborhood to look like.”

After updates and presentations from city and rail officials, those in attendance broke off into about five separate groups to discuss the best options for the northeast area. The free flow discussion touched on topics such as how far east should the rail travel on Independence Avenue and what is most important to the community members.

During the group discussions, Matt Lowe, a resident of Columbus Park, said when he envisions the Independence Avenue corridor, he sees a lot of economic impact. He said not only would it help the street but it would also help improve the look of the area.

“Part of what I love about about public transportation is how much it helps the underserved and I see a lot of good coming from this [Independence Avenue] rail,” Lowe said.

Maren Morefield, another Columbus Park resident, told her group she wants all the rails to happen, so it’s difficult for her to prioritize one route over another. When the five groups each presented their discussions to everyone, there was overwhelming support for the Independence Avenue corridor, with the rail traveling as far east as Hardesty Street.

After the meeting, Lowe said he likes the idea of a streetcar in his area because it can be a beneficial impact to the area.

“I have some concerns about taxation but there there is a lot of potential with this,” Lowe said.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6 – 8 p.m. Thursday, March 6, at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, 4041 Main St.

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