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Kansas City might again visit light rail issue


Kansas City, MO – Just when this city's voters thought they had put the light-rail issue behind them, it may be returning.

A petition committee plans to submit 6,000 signatures to repeal the city's light-rail plan, a multimillion dollar blueprint that voters approved in November after years of failed efforts by advocate Clay Chastain.

"It's a bad plan," said committee member Greg Patterson. "It's economically unfeasible; it won't meet federal standards; it does a lot of things that make no sense."

The past two weekends, Patterson said, his group gathered signatures supporting repeal of the plan. It would take at least 4,238 valid signatures to make the petition successful.

If there are enough valid signatures on the one-sentence petition ordinance, the City Council will face the choice of either repealing light rail without a replacement plan or submit the repeal ordinance to voters, perhaps as early as November. It also could put the measure on the February ballot.

The deadline for submitting items for the November ballot is Aug. 28, and the last scheduled council meeting is Aug. 23.

"We have a responsibility to deal with this, and I'm sorry they (the petitioners) have to force our hand," said Mayor Pro-Tem Bill Skaggs, a member of the council's Transportation Committee.

Repeal of light rail without a citywide vote would require approval by nine of the 13 council members.

Chastain reacted with anger.

"We'll be in court at the speed of light" if the City Council reacts to the petition by repealing light rail or ordering a vote, Chastain said.

He suggested the petition could lead to an endless series of competing petition drives.

"The courts will not allow that kind of circus and abuse of the democratic petition process," he said.

The petition drive comes as transportation officials have started their analysis of the light-rail options. Some said they worried the petition effort could complicate those studies.

"We still believe a majority of voters in November 2006 indicated they wanted light rail," said Mark Huffer, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority general manager. "The initiative circulating now doesn't move that issue forward."

He also said voters would have to revisit the light-rail issue because Chastain's plan had potential problems.

The plan approved by voters was the seventh initiative Chastain had pushed in the past decade. The other six failed.

It extends a 3/8-cent sales tax for public transportation for 25 years, providing money for a 27-mile rail line, shuttle buses and a gondola tram in Penn Valley Park.