Patrick Ishmael
Will Kansas City be bringing streetcars back to Main Street? If events from early this week are any indicator, maybe. Sure, the trolleys may be five times the price of a bus line, but if you're a city and have money to blow, this is the price you pay for cutting-edge technology (emphasis mine):
On Tuesday, a key Kansas City transit group unanimously endorsed a plan that would put the downtown route primarily down Main, not Grand Boulevard.

The city’s Parking and Transportation Commission approved a consultants’ recommendation, which favored streetcars over rapid buses on a two-mile route from the River Market to Crown Center.

“A Main Street streetcar is the superior alternative,” project manager Charlie Hales, with HDR Engineering, told the commission.

This calls for a Kansas City trolley soundtrack. Hit it, Johnny!

For those unfamiliar with Kansas City's politics, the idea of bringing rail lines in one form or another has been kicked around exhaustively for the last two decades, to the point where currently there are actually two competing passenger rail proposals: the Main Street trolley and, no joke, a $1 billion-plus rail project that perpetual rail proponent Clay Chastain has put forth. While the prospects of Chastain's proposal (again) look bleak, supporters of the trolley project are pumping theirs up at a fraction of that price -- a cool $100 million.

But even Chastain, of billion dollar rail fame, won't rally behind a trolley project:
One outspoken opponent [of the trolley project] is Clay Chastain, who has mounted numerous unsuccessful attempts to bring light rail to Kansas City. Chastain has once again gathered sufficient signatures to place a $1.4 billion light rail system before voters next year, but the City Council has not yet approved it for an election.

“You’re not going to take a streetcar to the airport,” Chastain said Tuesday when told about the commission’s recommendation. “This is not the major response we need to build a world-class transit system.”

When Clay Chastain says your project is impractical, that's saying something.

Of course, Kansas City's not the only major metropolitan area in Missouri that might put hundreds of millions of quarters on municipal rails. St. Louis is putting together a trolley project that would run from Forest Park to the Delmar Loop -- locations that Metrolink already serves, and within walking distance of the #1 Metro bus.

To give you an idea of the sort of distance we're talking about here:

View Larger Map

The estimated cost for the roughly 2-mile line? About $50 million.

Are these projects really the best use of taxpayer dollars? At least one form of public transit already serves both areas, and in the case of St. Louis' proposed line, there are two. The money the respective cities would spend on these projects couldn't be spent on other pressing municipal matters. What would the cities forgo by rebuilding rail lines that were torn out long ago?

In this economy, Kansas City and St. Louis need...trolleys? Really?

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael
Director of Government Accountability

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.