Virginia-Based Activist Clay Chastain Campaigns For New Kansas City Transit Plan

Jul 7, 2017

Longtime Kansas City transit activist Clay Chastain on Friday launched another campaign for a ballot initiative to create what he called an all-electric, "state-of-the-art transit system."

Question No. 2 on Kansas City's August 8 special election ballot asks for a yes or note vote on whether to approve a 3/8-cent sales tax that would last for 25 years:

"For the purpose of constructing, maintaining and operating one or more extensions to the streetcar system, that might include a fleet of electric buses to transport people to and from light rail system stations and from a northern station to KCI, from the Kansas City Zoo to the new Cerner Campus, and from the Country Club Plaza to Brookside and south, or as much as can be constructed, maintained and operated with proceeds of the tax, including necessary bridges and other infrastructure."

Chastain estimated the system he envisioned would cost $1.2 billion, and speculated that the city could obtain funds from a federal infrastructure bill under discussion in Washington, D.C. He said the proposed rapid-rail system would run in dedicated greenways which would also include bike and pedestrian lanes, create a "green swath" through the city.

Chastain, whose ballot proposal for a light-rail expansion along a similar route (his ninth initiative over the last 20 years) failed last November, said this plan was different.

"It's not a streetcar, it's not a rail line," Chastain said to a small group of reporters gathered at Union Station for a news conference. "I call it a rapid-rail system. It's something nobody's ever designed," he said.

"For the last couple of decades, I've challenged the establishment and the status quo, trying to make radical changes to the city, to make it a more green, prosperous, transit-oriented, more livable city," he said. "That’s what my petitions are about."

Arguing that the cost of his project would equal the cost of a new airport that he said the city doesn't need, Chastain said his initiative was also intended to send a message to City Hall.

"A vote for ballot Question 2, I hope, is also a vote to kick our dictatorial, insider-dealing, non-transparent anti-petition mayor and his arrogant, elitist, fat-ass cohorts down the steps of City Hall and out the door," he said.

When reporters pressed him for specifics such as maps of the proposed route or whether, for example, he had worked with land owners along the route, Chastain grew defensive.

“The details are in my brain. Anybody who wants to ask details, I can give you details," he said. "Don’t scoff at me, because my IQ is high, really high," he added. "That means I can remember things, and design things, and think of things that most people can’t.”

Of the design in his head, Chastain said, "I know what the people need and what they want. At least I think I do. And I want to put it on the ballot and let the people see whether they agree with me.”

Chastain, who doesn’t live in Kansas City and therefore can't vote on his proposal, said he would be back a couple more times in his one-man campaign between now and the August 8 election.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that the proposed greenways would be used for a rapid-rail system. 

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.