Jackson County has received $10 million in federal funds to apply toward the $59.9 million total cost of purchasing the former Rock Island railroad line through the county. In addition, Jackson County and the line's current owner, Union Pacific Railroad, have extended a memorandum of understanding that gives the county the exclusive right to buy the line and other key transit corridors that have the potential to be used for expanded public-transit options.
"This allocation signifies the acquisition of the Rock Island corridor is not just a Jackson County priority, but a regional priority," said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders. "That is significant news. It’s a major domino that has to fall if we’re going to make commuter rail transit work."
The $10 million in Surface Transportation Program funds were sub-allocated to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), the region’s metropolitan planning organization, by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA is part of the Department of Transportation, and the money comes from its Highway Trust Fund, which, in turn, is funded by federal fuel taxes. The MARC board, comprised of regional representatives, voted unanimously to appropriate the funds.
The agreement with Union Pacific gives the county an option to purchase the rights-of-way to nearly 24 miles of transit corridors. The largest segment -- about 15.5 miles long -- runs from Lee’s Summit north and west through Raytown and Independence, ending up near the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City. The agreement was originally formalized in February and was to run through December 31. It has now been extended through September 30, 2015. There is no cost to the county for the option itself.
"Union Pacific has been a great partner in this endeavor," said County Executive Sanders. "They recognize, as we do, that this is a unique opportunity not only for Jackson County, but the entire region for the development of regional transit and extending our trails system."
The memorandum entails no financial risk to county taxpayers, should Jackson County and Union Pacific be unable to reach a binding sales agreement before the new deadline of September 30, 2015.
At the November 3 meeting of the County Legislature, Sanders said he was working with leaders of other regional municipalities to come up with the remaining $49.9 million needed to buy the Rock Island corridor "without any additional tax increase." Union Pacific’s asking price has already dropped by half from its $120 million opening bid.
The Rock Island line in Jackson County last carried freight in the early 1980s. In the future, it could carry commuter-rail traffic with room left over for biking and/or hiking trails alongside the tracks.