Veteran transit activist Clay Chastain was in Kansas City on Friday to pitch his latest petition initiative, Question 2, on the Aug. 8 ballot.
Chastain, who lives in Bedford, Va., and is no longer a registered Kansas City voter, said he still loves this city and still has a vision for a citywide rail transit and electric bus system that he hopes voters will support.
He collected enough petition signatures to get on the ballot seeking a 3/8 -cent sales tax increase for 25 years, to help pay for what he’s calling a “hybrid” rail system that would combine the best of streetcars and light rail.
The tax increase would raise about $23 million annually in the early years, although Chastain hopes that would grow. He also hopes the federal government would fund at least 50 percent of what he is estimating to be a $1.2 billion project.
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“It tries to transform the city into a more transit-oriented city ... because that’s what people want these days,” Chastain said, adding that it would help Kansas City get past its obsession with the car culture. “They want green, progressive, transit-oriented cities.”
This is Chastain’s 10th petition initiative in Kansas City in 20 years. All have failed except for one, which the City Council repealed as unworkable.
His most recent ballot question, last November, failed with 60 percent voting against it. It sought voter support for a tax increase to help pay for a 40-mile light rail and electric bus system that would have cost an estimated $2 billion. Chastain says his new plan is preferable because it is less expensive and more manageable.
Chastain envisions a system of modern streetcars that would travel in dedicated rights-of-way, rather than in traffic as Kansas City’s current downtown streetcar line does. He says his system would be faster, going up to 45 mph, and could run about 25 miles, from Vivion Road in Kansas City, North, to the Kansas City Zoo in Swope Park.
It would incorporate the existing downtown streetcar line on Main Street but would then head west past Union Station over to Broadway, then south to the Plaza, and then east to the zoo and the Truman Sports Complex.
But Chastain admits this is truly a one-man crusade, and he has no specific supporters. He doesn’t have endorsements from North Kansas City, the Kansas City parks board, or the Missouri highway department, even though his route incorporates those assets. He has no money for a campaign, no website and no rendering of a route.
He argues his plan is preferable to another current proposal to extend the existing streetcar route through an expanded transportation development district.
That election is being done by mail, and ballots are due from voters within the proposed transportation district by Aug. 1. Chastain said any major transit system deserves a citywide vote, which is what he is seeking Aug. 8.