Does light rail polling mean death for a starter line?

A lot of light rail discussion at Thursday's Kansas City Council meeting on the latest light rail polling. This was the Pat Gray poll done in May in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties for Mayor Mark Funkhouser's regional transit concept. One question in particular has gotten attention: asking people about whether they preferred a regional system or a starter line.

At least one council member wonders whether the results doom a Kansas City-only light rail starter line.

The poll question reads: "In your opinion, should elected leaders pursue a regional transit system funded by area taxpayers, or a starter route inside the city that would be funded only by Kansas City taxpayers?"

The regional system was the overall preference, by a landslide, even when the results were broken out by sections of the county. In Kansas City south of the Missouri river -- the area where the bulk of a starter line would go -- respondents favored the regional system over the starter line by 43 percent to 21 percent.

This prompted Councilman John Sharp to say, "The starter line just got abysmal ratings, particularly inside Kansas City. . . . We need to take that very seriously. If we can't get the numbers closer to 50 percent, I'm scared we'll get clobbered (in an election) and that might set us back."

Sharp is a stated proponent of the regional approach, and he was taking that poll question as a referendum on a starter line. But other council members were quick to counter him.

"I didn't interpret those numbers to mean that's the level people would vote for," Councilman Ed Ford said. "I think you're misinterpreting the question."

Councilwoman Jan Marcason added: "I don't think that means only 21 percent of the people would support a starter line."

Politics is about massaging the message, and Sharp may be sharpening his against light rail.

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