Commuter Rail Could Connect Lee's Summit and Blue Springs to Kansas City
The Mid-America Regional Council identified three existing freight rail
lines in the Kansas City area suitable for commuter rail, and two are in
suburban Jackson County:
One line would run along Interstate 70 through Independence, Blue Springs,
Grain Valley, Oak Grove and Odessa.
The second line would run south to Lee's Summit, either through Raytown on
the inactive Rock Island rail line or on the Union Pacific Railroad line.
The Rock Island track would require more money to rebuild. The Union Pacific
route would have greater conflicts with freight traffic. Either way, after
Lee's Summit, the line would continue southeast to Pleasant Hill and
The third suitable line would run along the Kansas River from Union Station
to Lawrence and Topeka.
The study suggested that 16 other freight lines not be considered for
commuter rail because they had too much freight traffic on them or their
projected ridership was too low.
A line running along U.S. 71 to Belton was deemed not feasible because its
estimated ridership was too low.
A Cass County official said commuter rail, where it is feasible, would be
worth the wait.
"I think that the sooner it can be done the better, but you want to have it
done at the right time," said Mark Randall, Pleasant Hill city
administrator. "This is the perfect time to be studying it. We need to study
it now so we'll have it when we need it."
Though commuter rail would not solve all transportation problems, it would
add another transportation option for commuters, said Randall, a member of
the MARC committee preparing the proposal.
The study assumed that service on the three suitable rail lines would
include three trains a day each way and a potential average daily ridership
of at least 3,000 boardings per line.
The line through Lee's Summit to Warrensburg could have 3,800 boardings, and
the line to Odessa could have 4,160 by 2020, according to the report
compiled for MARC by R.L. Banks and Associates of Washington D.C. Ridership
was estimated based on population and the percentages of people who use
commuter rail where it is now available.
The Odessa line through eastern Jackson County would cost $117 million to
build and $3.6 million annually to operate. The Warrensburg/Lee's Summit
line would cost roughly $90 million to build and $5.9 million annually.
Consultants are completing a still more detailed assessment of the three
potential lines and may submit recomendations by the end of the year. If
they decide the lines are feasible, the consultants then will draw up plans
for implementing them, said Mell Henderson, MARC's transportation director.
Easing heavy highway traffic is the main reason MARC suggested commuter rail
for Kansas City, but increased environmental efficiency is another benefit,
"There's a whole range of things we're hoping to address by these
investments," he said.
"Our current I-70 is one of the most congested corridors in the region.
There is so much travel demand in that corridor, but this certainly would
give people a choice of how they would travel."
Other city officials said they supported the concept of commuter rail
because it would encourage Kansas Citians to work in the suburbs.
"There's a fair number of people who don't live in Oak Grove who commute to
Oak Grove for work," said Russell Pratt, Oak Grove's finance director.
"Anything that makes it easier for people to get here, I think, would spur
Fran Owens, Blue Springs economic development director, said alleviating the
"parking lots" on I-70 and Interstate 35 during rush hours would be worth
any inconveniences during commuter rail construction.
Past transportation plans have ignored eastern Jackson County, Owens added.
"I think that previous efforts have been shortsighted," Owens said.
"Primarily all you hear about is north of the (Missouri) river and Johnson
County. But we just happen to have half a million people living out here who
I think would benefit, too."
Bruce Hahl, development director for Independence, said commuter rail was
better than buses because it ran separately from car traffic.
"The reason is simple: You just can't build enough roads to accommodate the
traffic," Hahl said.
Plans for yet another Johnson County line - a commuter line along Interstate
35 - are moving forward in Johnson County, although recently the project has
run into possible cost problems.