Eariler this month Troy Schulte, the KCMO city manager, officially proposed an $800m general obligation bond to the city council. As proposed the city will use bond proceeds over the course of 20 years to repair and upgrade the city’s infrastructure.
Over a series of several blog posts we will outline our plan for how this bond funding could be used to make Kansas City a better place to walk and bike. In this post we will focus on our first recommendation: Comprehensive Transportation Policy
As anticipated, the proposed $800m infrastructure bond would provide funding for projects in six broad categories. The proposal is still devoid of a detailed project list or even funding levels for each category. Mr. Schulte highlighted a few example projects in each of the six categories but seemed to recommend a highly flexible approach.
An amorphous bond package comes with the primary benefit of ultimate flexibility. A highly conceptual plan can ensure that projects are selected to best meet the priorities of a rapidly evolving city. A detailed project list would lock the city into specific infrastructure investments that may not be relevant in ten or twenty years.
But there are also many pitfalls. Without detailed guidance on how to use the money, decisions become highly susceptible to the influence of special interest and politicization.
So what’s the alternative?
To ensure that infrastructure investments are strategic and responsive to changing priorities, the city must adopt comprehensive policy that clearly outlines long range mobility goals. Such policy would establish a framework for strategic decision making that is in the best interest of the public good.
Unfortunately, at least for transportation, this policy does not exist in Kansas City and as a result the city’s approach has been to react to problems as opposed to plan for the future. This brings us to our first recommendation for the infrastructure bond which actually is not infrastructure at all:
Develop and adopt a comprehensive mobility plan and a series of modal master plans, for example, bicycle and pedestrian master plans.
The comprehensive mobility plan will follow a deliberate public process and lay out the goals and vision for transportation in KCMO. The modal master plans will provide tangible action steps to achieve those goals. Together these will provide the guidance for wise decision making and the flexibility to respond to a changing landscape. Setting money aside in the bond package to implement adopted plans gives the public clarity on what their money will be used for.
This could take many forms and would likely take several years to complete. And that’s not to say that the city needs to wait to start spending bond proceeds on needed improvements. So, maybe the best approach is to create a five year project list based on the immediate, known needs while at the same time working through a significant transportation planning process to guide the remaining 15 years of the bond.
Even in the absence of a bond proposal, the city must take this vital step in transportation policy. All capital improvements regardless of their funding source must be governed by long-range plans that work for best interest of the public good.
Here are some examples from other cities: