Washington looks at light rail in new way, Kansas City could benefit

Many things have worked against Kansas City in its decades-long quest for light rail. A dispersed population. Too few riders. Speeds barely faster than a bus. And, compared with other places, a high cost for the benefits received.

But with two official rail or streetcar plans still in the works, Kansas City’s cause has gotten a boost from the Obama administration, which is changing how the federal government picks rail projects for funding. The government would give more weight to “livability issues” such as economic development and environmental benefits. Administration officials also plan to ease the standard for determining whether a project is cost-effective

Cities previously had been judged by a strict statistical analysis that emphasized moving large numbers of people quickly. By those standards, Kansas City often fell short.

But Kansas City residents have been unwilling to pay more taxes to fund commuter rail. If that didn’t change, federal funding still would be beyond reach.

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