CHICAGO - Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Mark Funkhouser today will formally present to other city and suburban elected officials his proposed $1.2 billion, 119-mile regional transit plan that relies on a sales tax increase for funding.

Ahead of the meeting, Funkhouser unveiled the proposal earlier in the week. His goal is to win the support of local elected officials who in turn would support placing on the November ballot a request to raise sales taxes by one-half cent in Jackson, Clay,and Platte counties. The increased collections would go to repay bonds issued to finance construction of the transit system. The mayor's proposal relies on federal funds to cover half of the costs. No additional financial details were available.

"Clearly, our region is ready for transportation options," Funkhouser said in a letter to officials inviting them to the meeting today. "According to a recent poll, more than two out of three of our constituents say that a regional transit system is important. And more than half say they're willing to vote for a half-cent sales tax to pay for it."

Under his proposal, a system would be built that would provide 11 miles of light-rail service at a cost of $611 million, commuter rail service covering 67 miles at a cost of $435 million, express bus service covering 36 miles at a cost of $42 million, and streetcars covering four miles at a cost of $108 million. In addition to the capital expense, it would cost $53.3 million annually to operate the system.

A governance board made up of four permanent members appointed by the Jackson County executive, the Clay County presiding commissioner, the Platte County presiding commissioner, and the Kansas City mayor would oversee the system. Three rotating members representing the nine largest cities within those counties would also serve on the board with the exception of the Kansas City mayor. Advisory boards made up of local elected officials, transportation officials, and citizens also would have input on the system.

Funkhouser hopes to convince local government units to support a November ballot measure. If not, the goal is to go to voters within the next two years and to establish a regional steering committee. If a sales tax increase is approved this year, commuter rail service could begin in five years and light-rail service in seven, the mayor said.

In order to place the measure on the November ballot, the city and county boards must approve the referendum by August. Under state law, the counties could collect a transit tax for up to 15 years. To impose the tax for any longer, officials would need state legislative approval.

The plan is larger in scope than another being promoted by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority that would establish light-rail service in the region, and it resembles proposals promoted by a another regional planning group.

While there is widespread support among the public and elected officials for increased public transit in the city and the surrounding region, some believe the KCATA's efforts to launch a starter light-rail line in the city with room to expand is more practical, several sources said. That plan calls for a light-rail line that would cost about $600 million to be funded with proceeds of a three-eights of a cent sales tax imposed within the city.

Local activist and light-rail advocate Clay Chastain has also proposed a regional transit plan that would cost more than $2.7 billion and depend on voter support for a sales tax increase of a half cent for 25 years in the three counties. A public meeting is planned next month on that proposal. Voters in 2006 endorsed a tax increase to fund a light-rail project developed by Chastain but the city repealed it, saying it wasn't feasible.

 

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