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John Petro

Making Tough Choices on Transit: Central City or Commuter Lines?

After prioritizing roads over transit for decades, only to see congestion worsen in the nation’s metropolitan regions, cities are clamoring for investments in transit, specifically rail transit. But they have found that there is not nearly enough federal funding for transit to go around.

Absent an city-led initiative to prioritize federal transportation spending (where are the nation's urban Congressional representatives on this issue?), cities need to prioritize the investments that they make, which leads to tough choices. Commuter rail or light rail? Should a transit system be built one line at a time, or all at once as a comprehensive system? And what about high-speed rail—should intercity rail receive so much federal funding when there are so many cities that need investments in intra-city rail?

In Kansas City, one light-rail advocate is collecting petition signatures in order to put a light-rail proposal on the city’s ballot for voter approval. At the same time, a County Executive is proposing a regional commuter rail system. Unfortunately, neither proposal may live while the other survives. Choices must be made.

While I can’t comment on the specific aspects of each proposal, the light-rail supporter made some good points about the benefits of building out rail projects in the core before building commuter projects:

“Of course, we need a future regional transit system in which commuter rail would be a viable component. But we need to take care of the city first because the center must hold, or else [the] suburban trains to Union Station will be trains to nowhere.”

Kansas City needs both systems, but the federal government is forcing our communities to choose.

While a commuter train may very well attract suburban riders to take them to jobs downtown, light-rail has a much better chance of making lasting improvements in central neighborhoods. Light rail is “designed to rebuild, revive and rally a struggling city around a light-rail-based transit system that will create new good-paying jobs, generate new urban redevelopment, forge a stronger green economy, provide a better quality of life and transform Kansas City into a more attractive and competitive city.”

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Posted at 7:50 AM, Jun 02, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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