“One of the things we were hearing from people is when are we going to see the next corridor selected, which corridor is going to be next, where are the stations going to be located,” Tober says.
“The city planning staff who was developing stationary and plans for the South Corridor said that we need to know more about where the stations are going to be, what the alignments are going to be, finally, so that we can put into place the transit-oriented zoning districts in the area. [So that] zoning decisions and land-use decisions that get made out there can be consistent, will be transit supportive.”
Tober says CATS went to the FTA in 2003 and asked to do something few had tried before, move all four other corridors through the study process at the same time.
“We did four simultaneous, what we call conceptual engineering and environmental studies and actually took us up to about 15, and maybe in one case 20, percent design level in those corridors. And last fall made final what we consider the final alignment and station location decisions and pretty much the final technology decisions with the exception of one corridor,” Tober says.
“And now the city planning staff from the land-use perspective knows where all the stations are going to be. The property owners will know where the stations are.”
The next question according to Tober now that where has been answered is when. The corridors are planned out in a sequence with some being done in as early as the next five years, while others will take 15. The corridors will be a mix of transit modes, including BRT, light rail, commuter rail and the streetcar lines (there are three of them in the plan), which are the farthest out.
With the light rail line nearing completion, recent news reports from the Charlotte area have sprouted up with complaints about the cost-overruns and a desire to do away with the sales tax that provides a large portion of CATS’ funding. The anti-CATS crowd has even gathered enough signatures to get a referendum on November’s ballot to repeal the tax. So with all this negative publicity swirling around the agency, how supportive has the public been of CATS? More than you hear about explains Tober.
“Well, some, and I think the vast majority of the public here has been very supportive of [the light rail line]. When we had the public hearing last fall, and the MTC, the transit commission, was making the final decisions, we had I don’t know, 60 some people come and testify. And they were all arguing about which corridor is going to be next or we want light rail instead of buses. So there is a lot of support out there,” Tober says.
“There is a small, very vocal group of people. And I mean small, there is maybe a dozen of them, who are anti-rail and maybe even anti-transit, who come from a particular political ideology and are actively engaged in trying to derail our plans.
“And they use their budget problems a year ago to sort of hype the fact that light rail was a boondoggle and so forth and managed to get on the ballot enough signatures to get the possible repeal of the sales tax on the ballot this November. We don’t think it is going to get repealed, but it’s being taken seriously.”
As with any transit agency, approval ratings wax and wane over time. Tober says that as far as CATS is concerned, they are still where they were at the beginning.
“When the sales tax was approved back in 1998, the vote was 58 to 42 the first time they went to the ballot, unlike Phoenix and other places that have taken three or four times to get sales tax approved. It got approved the first time here,” he says.
“The most recent poll done by the chamber was solidly behind us. [The poll’s results were] 57 percent to retain the tax, 40 percent to repeal the tax and the remaining 3 percent undecided. There was a margin of error of 4 percent on that. So we’re about where we were at nine years ago when the sales tax was approved.”
Kansas City ATA’s general manager, Mark Huffer, (April 2007) said the potential loss of sales tax revenue to a recent light rail ballot initiative could cripple his system. Would it mean the same thing to CATS?