Legislature Approves Bonds To Purchase Rock Island Corridor
17.7-Mile Line To Be Developed For Bike Trail & Potentially A Multi-Modal Transportation System
MONDAY, APRIL 4, 2016
Trains last rode the rails through the Rock Island Corridor in 1981. The 17.7-mile line that runs through eastern Jackson County has been dormant ever since.
But that is about to change.
During their meeting Monday, Jackson County Legislators approved issuing up to $52 million in bonds for the county — in partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (ATA) — to purchase the corridor from Union Pacific Railroad. The county and ATA’s immediate plan calls for transforming the Rock Island Corridor into a bicycle trail, with the potential for further redeveloping it later for multi-modal transportation.
“The county has spent seven years working on getting to this point today,” County Executive Frank White, Jr. said following the Legislature’s meeting. “A lot of hard work by the county’s staff and my predecessor, Mike Sanders, made this possible. Ultimately, our partnership with the ATA was essential to securing the finances necessary to make this investment in our community’s future.”
"From the ATA's perspective, we are all in with you.... I am a very strong advocate of this project, of this development, and it can't happen fast enough."- Steve Kilka (center), Board Chairman of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority
The bonds will be paid off over a 30-year period. The county and ATA are splitting the costs of the debt 50-50.
“From the ATA’s perspective, we are all in with you,” said ATA Board Chairman Steve Kilka, who’s also a Johnson County (Kansas) Commissioner.
The ATA is a bi-state mass transportation agency that has undergone significant reorganization in recent years. Creating a seamless regional transit system to all corners of Greater Kansas City has become, Kilka explained, the ATA's top priority.
‘Foot On The Accelerator’
Both Kilka and ATA President/CEO Robbie Makinen are anxious to work with the county to begin crafting a master plan for the Rock Island Corridor. It extends from the Truman Sports Complex southeast through Raytown and Lee’s Summit.
“Our foot is on the accelerator, and we’d like to move as fast as we can,” said Makinen.
The Rock Island project, Kilka stated, fits perfectly within the ATA’s regionalization objectives. “I am a very strong advocate of this project, of this development,” he said, “and it can’t happen fast enough.”
Tom Gerend advocated creating a regional transit system as an administrator with the Mid-American Regional Council (MARC) and now serves as Executive Director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority. He called the Rock Island a “strategic corridor of great importance” for a new transportation system that “will serve generations to come.”
$10 Million Federal Grant
Multi-modal transit service along the corridor is a long-term goal. Work on the new bike trail will commence immediately after Jackson County and the ATA finalize the land purchase. While crews clear trees and foliage that have overrun corridor, the trail design will be finalized.
A $10 million federal Surface Transportation Program grant, allocated through MARC, will cover most of the costs of the trail — with an additional $2.5 million match in local funding.
“Infrastructure projects are extremely difficult,” said Jackson County Legislative Chairwoman Crystal Williams (2nd District At-Large). “You have to envision them. They don’t happen overnight. This has taken seven years, and we’ve still got some time to go before we really see this all come to fruition.
“I am proud to be a part of this because this is the kind of thing that moves us to the next phase of growth in eastern Jackson County.”
Connecting To The Katy
Eventually, the goal is to link the new bicycle trail to the Katy Trail, resulting in a continuous trail across Missouri, from St. Louis to Kansas City. The Rock Island Corridor ends just short of the Katy Trail, but the county is currently exploring alternatives to close the 3.8- to 5-mile "Greenwood Gap" and connect with the Katy.
Tying KC to the Katy has been a top priority of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation for more than 20 years. Extending the Katy Trail would attract bicyclists from around the world to Missouri, according to Eric Rogers, Executive Director/Co-Founder of Bike Walk KC.
“The longer the trail the further people will travel to visit it,” Rogers said. Trails, he added, are an amenity that will help the region’s economic prowess, “competing for the work force of the 21st Century.”
The ATA is collaborating with the county on the bicycle trail's engineering to assure it allows for the potential development of transit service in the corridor. Kilka noted he can envision "buses, trains, maybe streetcars" running parallel to the bike trail.
Former County Executive Mike Sanders attended Monday’s meeting, where he reiterated that acquiring the Rock Island Corridor was a generational investment. He also praised Union Pacific for its cooperation in giving the county and its partners time to secure the finances for purchasing the corridor. The transaction is expected to be completed within the next few weeks.
In anticipating work on the new bike trail soon starting, Union Pacific Senior Manager of Real Estate Jim Hild said, “We are very excited to see this corridor come to life again.”
An Investment Paying Dividends
Developing the Rock Island Corridor is expected to be an investment that pays big economic dividends for the Jackson County and the Kansas City region.
- Trail development in corridor will bring $1.3 million in economic activity per year
- Over 19,000 bicyclists will use the corridor
- 17.7 mile corridor connects cities of Kansas City, Raytown and Lee’s Summit
- Provides for potential of a Kansas City connection to the KATY Trail
- 40% of trail users are expected to be daily work commuters
- Hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investments planned within ½ mile of corridor through 2020
- Trail development will increase property values by about $45 million for residents within ¼ of corridor
- A National Association of Realtors study found homes near trails sell up to 15% more than homes not near trails
- For every dollar invested significant benefits generated to the local community
- Trail and transit infrastructure projects, more labor intensive than material intensive, create more jobs per dollar spent than highway and bridge projects and are more suitable for small businesses and MBE/WBE enterprises.
- Within 1 mile of corridor Over 25,000 jobs Over 23,000 households Over 56,000 residents
- $1 invested in transit and trail in corridor will generate approximately $3 in economic benefit
- Transit and trails will connect regional users to Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums
- Provides for potential of connecting future transit to the River Market
- Transit in corridor will connect with greater KCATA bi-state network
- Over 14 million fewer vehicle-miles will be traveled in 20-year period due to trail development
- New transportation options offered will save the region 477,000 gallons in gasoline over 20 years
- Trail development will clean up existing eyesores, safety hazards and contamination
> Rock Island Corridor Map (PDF)
> Map With Activities (Medical, Libraries, Schools, etc.) Around The Corridor (PDF)