Wednesday, January 25, 2017
KCI makes Trump priority lists for national infrastructure projects
Kansas City Star reporter Eric Adler explains the details and costs of four proposed improvements to Kansas City International Airport, built in 1972. Two renovation ideas and two new terminal proposals are covered in this explanatory video.
By Lynn Horsley
The Kansas City (MO) Star
Kansas City International Airport shows up among 50 major infrastructure projects on a national priority list compiled by Donald Trump’s presidential transition team, according to documents obtained by The Star and a sister McClatchy newspaper.
KCI, which is described as a $972 million project leading to 1,000 jobs, is No. 26 on a list titled “Emergency & National Security Projects.”
A senior congressional aide, reached by McClatchy’s news bureau in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, confirmed the authenticity of the document obtained by The Star. Attempts to reach the White House were not immediately successful.
The aide said the document was put together with input from governors offices around the country. Missouri backed Trump with 56 percent of the vote. No Kansas projects appear on the list.
President Trump, over the course of last year’s campaign and again during his inauguration address Jan. 20, made repeated pledges to fix up aging infrastructure in the United States. Trump’s transportation secretary nominee, Elaine Chao, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, although she has been recommended for approval by a Senate committee with little objection.
The list includes other projects like a $12 billion reconstruction of rail infrastructure between New York City and Newark, N.J., Interstate 95 highway repairs through North Carolina and the repair or replacement of 15 bridges on I-95 going through Philadelphia.
It is not clear if The Star’s document is a draft version. The National Governors Association circulated a similar list as a spreadsheet among state officials in December, requesting further suggestions. It was obtained by the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.
All but two projects on both lists are the same. KCI appears on both lists.
KCI is one of three airport projects on the Trump transition team’s document. The others are expansions of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The Kansas City and St. Louis airports are the only Missouri infrastructure projects on the list.
The projects are among a total investment of $137.5 billion described in the document. Half that amount is supposed to represent private investment.
The document does not specify how any of the projects, including KCI, would be funded, how the federal government prioritized these projects or any timeline for completion.
“The business case for a new terminal was bolstered after Southwest and the other airlines told the City Council on April 26 that they would finance the nearly $1 billion new terminal, to be built where Terminal A is now,” reads the document’s description for KCI, which lifts word-for-word a passage in a June 24 article in The Star.
That story explored how City Hall and the local business community might pursue a new KCI.
The effort to sway the airlines worked. Southwest Airlines in April, which led a coalition of airlines that serve KCI, agreed with City Hall’s desire to reshape KCI’s three-terminal design into a single terminal.
But the public didn’t buy in; Kansas City Mayor Sly James last year hit the the pause button on efforts to put a new terminal before voters, after seeing public opinion polls that indicated it was not a top priority for Kansas City residents.
Since then, City Hall and the airlines have called on the local business community to lead a charge for the single terminal.
“We’ve seen a couple lists of proposed infrastructure projects, including KCI Airport, that could be funded under a Trump administration,” said Joe Reardon, president and chief executive of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. “We welcome any federal dollars coming to the KC region to address our infrastructure needs including roads, bridges, levees, water services, transit, and KCI.”
Reardon added that the chamber is working on its own federal agenda for 2017 and compiling a list of local projects that are most needed in a region if an infrastructure proposal emerges from Washington, D.C.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s office said it submitted a list of potential infrastructure projects to the National Governors Association, including water and transportation projects.
“Gov. Brownback looks forward to working with the Trump administration to strengthen our excellent Kansas infrastructure system,” said Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby.
Kansas City officials said Tuesday they did not know how KCI ended up on the list or what it might mean.
But Aviation Director Pat Klein said Tuesday he wasn’t shocked to see it on a list of major national infrastructure needs.
“We shouldn’t be surprised it’s on the list. We’ve had a community conversation (about KCI) since 2011. We have lots of infrastructure needs in this city, and this is one of them,” Klein said.
Klein added that he is not assuming that placement on the list means Kansas City’s airport project would get a lot of federal funding. He just thinks its placement on the list was reasonable because the 44-year-old airport clearly must be modernized in some way, and Trump has talked about the need for airport upgrades all over the country.
“The president has mentioned aviation projects in a lot of his speeches,” Klein said.
Klein also said placement on the list doesn’t clarify in any way how KCI should be modernized. The city is still trying to build a community consensus on the best path forward for the airport — whether to demolish Terminal A and replace it with a single-terminal airport, or whether to renovate at least two of the existing terminals.
“We still need to have a community conversation,” Klein said. “It doesn’t change our local discussion.”
Kansas City officials have put that airport conversation on the back burner while they pursue another huge infrastructure challenge. The City Council is asking local voters in April to approve measures to borrow and invest $800 million over 20 years in the city’s roads, bridges, flood control, sidewalks and buildings.