Many gather to argue whether city should spend $227-million to extend the streetcar line to UMKC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Supporters and opponents argued Thursday over whether taxpayers should spend $227-million to extend the streetcar line to UMKC.

A judge heard testimony as part of a public hearing at the Jackson County courthouse.

Streetcar supporters want the public transit line extended from Union Station down Main Street all the way to the University of Missouri Kansas City campus.

Jackson County Judge J. Dale Youngs must decide if a petition filed by the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance is legal to allow a transportation development district along Main Street.

The alliance believes now is the time to expand, while ridership on the starter line is exceeding expectations.

"I hear people all the time saying, 'Why doesn’t this go to the Plaza? When can we have this go to the Plaza?,'" said Chris Nesciali, a streetcar supporter. "Some people said, 'Can we have this go to the Plaza next year?' Unfortunately it’s a 6 to 7 year process. We need to start the ball rolling on this as soon as possible because people want it now."

But many in Kansas City aren't convinced the streetcar is a priority, and some call it a waste to spend any more money on it at all.

Opponents say Kansas City needs to focus on more important issues, like an $800-million property tax increase to pay for roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure upgrades.

"For my money it’s never a good time," said Sherry DeJanes, who testified against the streetcar petition. "Certainly it’s not now. Many of us experienced sewer backups with this last spate of flooding. We need something done with the sewers. We need something done with our schools. We’d like to have a few more officers out there to help those in need. We don’t need to spend over $100-million a mile on a streetcar."

If the transportation district is approved, only voters living within the area would be asked to approve a special tax to pay for streetcar expansion. That vote could happen as soon as next year.