Thursday, August 22, 2019

Kansas City Metro Local Consult Summary

To navigate an unpredictable future – we need to consider where we can be certain and provide flexibility for where we can’t.

A modern transportation system must be nimble to navigate changes in our economy, population shifts or new weather patterns.  That was the key message that emerged from the Kansas City Metro’s Local Consult Round 1:  Visioning Transportation Futures meeting on Thursday.  Participants also called for collaboration and inclusivity by voicing support for making investments that benefit the entire region, establishing more public-private partnerships, and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Approximately 204 Kansans participated in a scenario planning exercise in Overland Park and provided input on how transportation investments could best serve their communities in the future.  It was also a chance to highlight recent successes as examples for what can work going forward.  For example, Beth Linn, city administrator of Edgerton, noted the connection between public and private investment. About $150 million in public funding for roads and bridges in the Logistics Park Kansas City area has spurred $1.1 billion in private investment, she said. And the 4,500 jobs expected in the area by the end of this year will contribute $6.6 million in new annual income taxes for Kansas, Linn added.

“We passionately believe in the connection between investment in public infrastructure and what happens on the private side as a result of that.”
-        Beth Linn, City Administrator for the City of Edgerton

And there are more opportunities to be gained with additional investments. Participants spoke of emerging needs such as improvements at K-47 & 43rd Street or better connections from Leavenworth to Kansas City International airport. Participants demonstrated an openness to alternative sources of funding to meet needs.  For example, Rep. Jeff Pittman, while advocating for the replacement of Centennial Bridge in Leavenworth, mentioned that the community is willing to consider tolling to help fund a new bridge. He also said regional connectivity would be important to support ongoing economic development.

As they worked through three distinct future scenarios, participants said that Kansas’ position of being situated within a two-day drive to 85 percent of the nation’s population would continue to be an asset that the state should continue to leverage when making investments.  The metro region has some considerable advantages over coastal cities, including shorter commutes and more affordable housing.  And the region is making strides towards becoming more walkable, which is helpful for gaining new residents, they said.

The scenario planning exercise allowed participants to consider how technology could impact transportation needs and services going forward.  Beth Wright, Public Works Deputy Director and City Engineer for the City of Olathe, pointed out there may be a time in the future when traffic patterns and the need for more highway lanes change because self-driving vehicles can move people and goods when people aren’t awake. 

“I see a lot of car sharing and electric bikes in the future,”
-        Mark Bechtel, Deputy Regional Administrator for Federal Transit Administration

Technological implications were not limited to highway improvements.  Participants spoke about the increased traffic on Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park and how technology is already allowing better transit service, including increasing access to medical facilities.  There may also be opportunities to partner with ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft to increase mobility options throughout the metro, participants said.

In one future scenario, the Kansas City region would gain population rapidly due to extreme weather on the east and west coasts, which would have numerous implications on the transportation system. Participants stressed the importance of having flexibility to allow for future growth and capture new opportunities.  For example, an increased population in the metro area could generate density necessary to support light rail.

“When planning for future road improvements, we should consider transitional strategies, such as making one lane of a highway suitable for mass transit – like light rail.”
- Stephanie Malmborg, Deputy Community Development Director for the City of Shawnee
Similar to previous local consult meetings, participants were concerned about safety. However, the conversation expanded from identifying specific roadway improvements that can be made to improve safety to discussing the cultural tolerance of traffic fatalities.  Olivia Desmarais, a trauma injury prevention specialist for the University of Kansas Health System, noted that hundreds of Kansans die in traffic fatalities each year and the public must stop thinking that’s okay or unchangeable.

“We need to put safety at the forefront of all innovation.”
-Olivia Desmarais, Trauma Injury Prevention Specialist, University of Kansas Health System

Participants voiced strong support for making sure Kansans, regardless of where they live or their economic status, benefit from transportation investments.  This inclusivity extended to both rural and urban areas.  Participants noted that these areas are interdependent and regardless of what the future brings – rural and urban collaboration will be essential for the state to succeed.

Or as one group agreed, “More than anything as we move forward, we need to have faith in our communities and work together.”

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