If federal dollars become available because Congress passes either a jobs bill or a transportation bill, the Greater Kansas City area will be "well positioned" to receive assistance for a wide-array of projects. Those projects could employee thousands of people.
United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered that good news in person during a round-table discussion Friday, October 7 at the Truman Library in Independence. LaHood was joined by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill as they received input about transportation-related issues from Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, five area mayors, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith, railroad executives, union leaders, transit agency officials, urban planners and others.
LaHood noted that everyone in the room likely knows at least one person who is currently unemployed. "The one way to put friends and neighbors to work is to pass the jobs bill or pass the surface transportation bill," he said. A 'Head Start'
The transportation bill will potentially be a primary source of funding for the Kansas City Regional Rail plan being pitched by Sanders. The County Executive noted that surveys reveal overwhelming support for the plan, which will use existing rail lines that are either abandoned or underutilized to serve major destinations around the region. Union Station, in the heart of Kansas City, is intended to serve as a major connecting point.
Making use of the existing lines puts the Greater Kansas City area in position to "do more with [federal transit] dollars than any other city in America," Sanders told LaHood.
The Secretary of Transportation agreed. Compared to proposed transit initiatives in other metropolitan areas, the Regional Rail plan has a "head start because of the willingness to use existing infrastructure" to keep costs down, LaHood pointed out.
Sanders and Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross both emphasized that developing mass transit and improving roads and bridges goes beyond giving citizens more options or a smoother ride. Ross urged Congress to act on the proposed transportation bill "because it's also going to spur economic development."
Other mayors in attendance included Sly James of Kansas City, Don Reimal of Independence, Randy Rhoads of Lee's Summit and David Bower of Raytown. Bower and Ross urged leaders in Washington, D.C. to take a cue from -- in Bower's words -- "those of us at the local level who work together, regardless of political party, to get things done."
Although the transportation bill has been delayed in Congress for more than two years, McCaskill anticipates the stalemate could soon break. The Senate, she said, may also vote on President Obama's jobs bill this week.
Following the meeting, Sanders said he was "more optimistic than ever" about possible federal funding being secured to make Regional Rail a reality.
"We had an opportunity to speak directly with the Secretary of Transportation, and he said we are putting our community and our state in a good position to compete for federal funding," Sanders continued. "Congress has to act, and we appreciate that Senator McCaskill will be helping to push for passage of these bills. Our job at the local level is to make sure our proposals are as effective and as competitive as possible."
Jackson County recently joined with Kansas City, the Mid-America Regional Council and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to host a series of public meetings on future mass transit options in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The meetings are part of an ongoing Commuter Corridors Alternative Analysis, a study that must be conducted as part of the process involved in securing federal mass transit funding.