Ten Years Since Resolution #0957
Saturday, December 15, 2018 5:53 PM
Ten years after the Northern Flyer Alliance got Resolution 0957 passed through the KS House, it looks like 2019 is shaping up to be the year for funding the Heartland Flyer Extension. At least in the Kansas Legislature. The arc of justice is long.
The NFA Board met in Topeka on Nov 19, 2018 to discuss strategy and action steps for the 2019 KS legislative session, and to get feedback from board member Ty Dragoo regarding the status of the Joint Vision Legislative Task Force (JVLTF) on Transportation.
As a member of JVLTF, Ty has key insights on the mood of the group. Ty also has a great working relationship with Governor-elect Laura Kelly who is supportive of the Heartland Flyer Extension. Having met with her October 6, 2018 our next meeting with her would be to request advice and/or action on her part if passenger rail gets targeted. We might be called on to provide testimony.
Sen. McGinn is looking for a cost estimate to begin service. This is extremely difficult to predict as KDOT and BNSF are playing off each other again. Moreover, we’re getting mixed signals from KDOT and Amtrak as to the need for a Revenue and Ridership Study. The study was launched January 2018, and the results were due January 2019. However, Chris Herrick announced at the Oct. 6 JVLTF Transportation meeting in Newton that BNSF refuses to expend any resources until they know that the future of the Southwest Chief is secure. KDOT says they’re waiting on BNSF. BNSF says they’re waiting on KDOT so Sen. McGinn plans to write a letter to both entities to try to obtain an understanding of the real holdup, as Amtrak has told Senator McGinn repeatedly that they are ready to go! What a cluster and conundrum, which we believe to be deliberate as we have seen this many times before. Given the circumstances, as a group, we came up with a best guestimate. We believe $3M would cover operational support with a little extra for capital improvements. But there is some reason to believe that a reverse-ladder revenue stream would make more sense to handle unknown contingencies. Unfortunately, the JVLTF hasn’t yet agreed to provide us with the higher dollar amount. At the moment, $3m/year seems to be the agreed-to amount.
Currently, Kansas is doing well financially once again. We need to revive so many things as a state that were destroyed under Brownback. On the bright side, it’s estimated that Education, Transportation and Medicaid expansion could be fully funded without raising taxes. If not, paying for transportation needs could be funded through a motor fuel tax. A Lock Box Amendment is also being considered where the sales tax stays in KDOT and not robbed to fill budget holes. Federal funds are also available. For example, on Nov. 15th, 2018 FTA made available $272M for State of Good Repair grants. These funds could potentially be available for the Heartland Flyer Extension. There is also $1B available from the failed restoration of the Sunset Limited according to Pete Meitzner, Sedgwick County Commissioner- elect. Amtrak is supposedly the source of this information. Per the Wichita Eagle, the City of Wichita wants to see KDOT seek federal grants to match state funds.
The position of Secretary of Transportation has been offered to Carl Brewer (former Mayor of Wichita). In lieu of that, Secretary of Commerce. This is important because Mr. Brewer should have a keen understanding of the importance Wichita has placed on this project.
Ty is familiar with the legislative calendar, and says that January 20 is the date that everything happens. We could be called to make a presentation in support of the Heartland Flyer Extension. He also recommends that we expand our social media presence for NFA during this time.
The future of the Chief is brighter than we think, according to Ty. By virtue of six Senators on record as being in favor of maintaining the Southwest Chief, the BNSF’s baulk at working with KDOT is an indication not so much that they’re concerned with the future of the Southwest Chief, but rather someone didn’t pay BNSF the $20,000 that the Revenue and Ridership Study supposedly cost. OR, perhaps $20k isn’t really the true cost of the study.
From a nuts and bolts perspective, the Transportation Task Force will write the T-Works bill. Language has been drafted up for inclusion in the new T-Works bill to support the extension to Newton. It is unknown at this time what part will be debated. We stand prepared to provide testimony.
Other news from Friends of NFA: Virgin Trains (owned by Virgin Airlines) CEO Sir Richard Branson invested in Brightline and now wants Brightline renamed to Virgin Trains. He’s also behind Brightline connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Branson has a connection to Norfolk Southern.
Written by Deborah Fischer Stout, President NFA 12/14/2018