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Archive for January, 2015

While waiting on pins and needles for more results in our I-70 survey — to toll or not to toll — we motor on.

Here are a couple of items hot off The Star’s website.

:: The Star’s Tony Rizzo had a very interesting online story today (it will be in the printed edition tomorrow), reporting that the driver of the 18-wheeler that 24-year-old Shante Hopkins’ car on Interstate 435 last month “did not brake or attempt evasive action.”

shante

Shante Hopkins

From the time I read about this horrible crash — which took the lives of Hopkins, three of her four children and a friend of hers — I wondered how in the hell the truck driver could just plow into Hopkins’ car, which had apparently slowed to a stop, or near stop just north of the Eastwood Trafficway exit. She was southbound in the far right lane. Authorities are still investigating what caused her car to lose speed dramatically.

Rizzo’s story doesn’t shed any light on what might have been going on in the cab of the truck, which a 56-year-old Minnesota man was driving. But a Kansas City Police Department preliminary report says the driver had a “straight line-of-sight to the car” and “neither adjusted his speed nor altered his course in order to avoid the collision.”

…I’m having trouble comprehending that. What the hell was the driver doing? Was he texting? Was he masturbating? Was he watching TV? What the f___?

Rizzo reported that the driver did not appear to police to be impaired and that he tested negative for d.u.i. In addition, the police department’s commercial motor vehicle investigation section inspected the truck and found nothing awry.

I hate to say it but this could simply be a case of “big-truck syndrome” (a condition I just came up with) where some big-rig drivers are convinced they own the road and that everybody else should just “get out of my way.” We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all been subjected to their hurry-up tactics.

If that is the case, then what this driver might have done was simply roll up on Hopkins’ car with the intention of goosing her along a bit, thinking she would just put the pedal to the metal and move out.

I gotta tell you, that’s my theory: The Hopkins crew was done in by a trucker who fancied himself king of the road and didn’t really give a shit about the little maroon Mazda he was barreling toward.

:: The Star also reported today that the former Metcalf South Shopping Center “will most likely become a mixed-use destination, featuring retail, dining, office space and multi-family living.”

That’s what a development company, Lane4 Property group, told the Overland Park City Council Monday night. Lane4 and the Kroenke Group bought the property last February, and the two companies have been researching possible uses for the center, which has only one big store left — Sears, at the south end of the center.

I hope it works out. I always found the mall to be accessible, and parking was no problem. I shopped periodically at Macy’s and still shop at Sears, and I occasionally go to movies at the Glenwood Arts Theatre on the back side of the center.

Too bad the Glenwood is closing. Brothers Brian and Ben Mossman, who operate the theater, often screen outstanding independently produced films that you can’t see anywhere else, except at another of their theaters. (After the Glenwood closes, they’ll be down to two, the Rio and the Leawood.) Lane4 might bring in a movie theater, but it will probably be one of the big theater chains, which for the most part go with the pablum that the major studios dish out.

…For nostalgia’s sake, here’s a look at Metcalf South in its prime, probably in the ’70s, judging from the cars.

metcalf

Kansas City Star file photo

 

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In his own feeble way, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon apparently is pushing for making I-70 a toll road between the outskirts of Kansas City and the outskirts of St. Louis.

The Star had a front-page story about this development on Saturday. The news “peg,” as we call it in the business, was that Nixon recently received a report from the Missouri Department of Transportation examining options for levying tolls on I-70.

But reporter Brad Cooper didn’t directly bring the governor into the story — quoting him, that is — until deep in the story.

jayn

Nixon

At that point, Cooper quoted Nixon as telling the transportation department, in some sort of statement, that the state’s “transportation funding is approaching a critical juncture.”

The story then paraphrased Nixon as saying that one of Missouri’s most pressing infrastructure needs is forming a belt across the country’s midsection from Utah to Maryland.

That’s the best Cooper could do regarding Nixon’s supposed backing of an I-70 sales tax. Cooper apparently made no effort to interview Nixon or get something from a spokesman.

In any event, if you’ll notice, nowhere in the direct quote or the paraphrase did Nixon actually come out and say that he either favors an I-70 toll or that he would campaign for it if a measure was put to a statewide vote.

Besides this being a lame story, my point is that the governor’s position seems equally lame.

Here’s the crux of the matter. In my view, Missouri voters probably tilt heavily against tolls on I-70 in any event, and the only possible way such a measure would pass is if Nixon put his full weight behind it (what little political weight he has left after Ferguson, anyway) and campaigned relentlessly for it.

But I cannot envision him doing that.

We’ve seen enough of Nixon to know how he operates: He throws out trial balloons occasionally; they float under the clouds for a while; and then they run out of air.

The only thing Nixon has actively campaigned for in his political career, as fas as I can tell, is his own election and re-election.

So, unless the Missouri General Assembly can impose a toll through the legislative process (predictably, Cooper’s story didn’t address that), this proposal probably won’t go very far.

**

That’s not to say, however, that it doesn’t have some merit and isn’t worth serious consideration. Missouri voters have defeated two or three sales-tax proposals in the last decade or so to boost funding of the state’s transportation needs, but voters have defeated each of them decisively.

Also, the Republican-dominated General Assembly seems completely disinterested in giving voters the opportunity to vote on a proposed increase in the state’s gas tax. The gas tax has stood at 17 cents a gallon, one of the lowest rates in the nation, since 1996. A gas tax increase is clearly the best way to fund statewide transportation projects (and what could be a better time than now, with gas prices so low?) but since when has reason and common sense prevailed in the Missouri General Assembly?

Given the political darkness that Missouri is stumbling through, an I-70 toll might be the best way to go.

usa-interstate70-map

One person who is open to that possibility is my friend Tom Shrout, leader of the committee that campaigned against a three-quarter-cent, transportation sales tax proposal that voters defeated in August by 59 percent to 41 percent.

tom shrout

Shrout

For more than 20 years, Shrout was executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis.  Now, he and his wife Debra have a consulting company that organizes community support for improved public transit.

In an email, Shrout said:

“I think tolls can be sold to the Missouri electorate, but it will take a professional education campaign prior to a ‘vote yes’ campaign. I’m thinking radio, TV, newspaper in addition to community meetings. Direct mail, social media, etc. would come in the ‘vote yes’ campaign, in addition electronic and social media. Polling would be critical.”

Shrout said that a potentially deep source of campaign funds would be the Show-Me Institute, a conservative think tank headed by retired St. Louis area businessman Rex Sinquefield.

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Sinquefield

Sinquefield has thrown millions of dollars into several terribly bad proposals, including one to eliminate the Kansas City earnings tax (fortunately, it failed badly). But he and his Show-Me colleagues worked against the transportation sales tax and would seem to look favorably on an I-70 toll.

Shrout said that if supporters of tolls on I-70 are serious about putting it to a statewide vote, they should get cracking.

Proponents of the transportation sales tax spent $4 million last summer talking about the desperate need for increased transportation funding, and Shrout said toll-road proponents need to “build on the investment and get the funding mechanism right and the projects right.”

Another important campaign element, Shrout said, would be emphasizing how easy and practical toll collection could be.

“A few years back, Debra and I paid our toll in New Zealand over the Internet after we got back from our excursion,” he said. “You have a grace period to get it paid. Regulars have onboard transponders that automatically deduct the toll.”

**

I’d be interested to know what you readers think about the prospect of an I-70 toll. Personally, I’m ambivalent. I hate driving on the Kansas Turnpike, even when I just go between here and Lawrence. It’s not the money that bothers me; it’s feeling like I’m held hostage on I-70 and can only use the “Lawrence Service Area” to go to the bathroom or get something to drink. (The prices are inordinately high, too.)

On the other hand, I do like the fact that those who use I-70 the most — our friends, the truckers — would pay the most. Also, it seems like a fair way to pay for redoing the most important and heavily used road in the state. As Cooper’s story noted, about 60 percent of the state’s population and jobs are located within 30 miles of I-70.

So, tell me what you think. Let the informal survey begin.

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In the winter, having your coat with you and, more important, getting it back after you deposit it somewhere is something you take for granted.

But anyone who has had the experience of leaving their coat on a rack or at a coat check and then finding it has disappeared when they go back for it…oh, my. It’s as bad as losing a wallet or a wedding or engagement ring.

The worst feeling when a winter coat disappears is when you think someone has stolen your coat. I mean, this is not just a piece of personal property, it’s your shield from the cold, your comfort from the biting wind, your cherished wrap that accompanies you on expeditions short and far and is always there for you.

But sometimes, unfortunately, coats disappear. And that’s just what happened on New Year’s Eve at a big party at the Wheeler Downtown Airport. Here’s what happened, as The Star reported on Saturday:

About 1,500 people paid $100 each to attend a fund-raising party for the National Airline History Museum. Good start, right? But it didn’t take long for disappointment to set in. The party promoters and organizers ran low on food and drink. Bad sign right?

And then, as the mood almost certainly turned sour because of that, people started heading for the exits.

As they went to the coat check station to get their coats, however, many people discovered, to their chagrin, that their coats weren’t there. Nowhere to be found.

One man, Matt Lugo of Blue Springs, told The Star’s Don Bradley:

“We checked four coats and they gave us three back. The missing one was my wife’s. A wool overcoat, a gift from her family. She was pretty upset.”

Museum officials told people to send in a picture of their missing coat. One man said, “I just got it for Christmas — I don’t have a picture of it.”

One woman who attended the party, Vinur Kaul, told KSHB, Channel 41, news that she was so frustrated with long wait times for a parking-lot shuttle bus, as well as the coat check and the bar service, that she and her fiance left well before midnight.

John Roper, the museum’s vice president of operations, acknowledged “problems” with the event and told Bradley that “an investigation” was underway.

The museum posted a statement on the Facebook Event Page that said, in part:

“We ask those who may have mistakenly taken the wrong coat or an additional item by mistake to please return to us so that we can get it to its rightful owner. We appreciate your patience and cooperation in this effort.”

What a sorry situation. What a debacle.

**

I was the victim of a coat theft just once, as I recall. And that occasion, which occurred more than 50 years ago, I remember like it was yesterday.

In my youth, several Catholic parishes in Louisville, where I grew up, threw mixers for teens, usually on Sunday nights. One church known for having very good mixers — that is, with a lot of girls attending — was St. Raphael. Its mixed was called “Sa-Ra-Teen.” My home church, St. Agnes called its events “Senga.”

On night when I went to Sa-Ra-Teen I had a brand-new, tan trench coat, which my parents had bought me. I mean not more than a week old. It was a primo trench coat made by the one and only London Fog, a brand that spoke of class and social acceptance.

(According to Wikipedia, two-thirds of all raincoats sold in the United States in the 1970s were from London Fog.)

Anyway, I hung my newly cherished coat on a coat rack in a corner of the school’s event space. I remember putting it on a hook, along with dozens of others on other hooks, without making any attempt to put it under other coats or in some relatively remote location. (That’s one of those things you learn with experience.)

When I went back to the rack at the end of the evening — I was one of the last to leave — the coat was gone. I knew exactly where I had put it, and it wasn’t there. I rooted through all the remaining coats, but it wasn’t there. The coats that remained were pathetic — nothing like my crisp, unblemished London Fog. I went out into the cold and went home — maybe my father picked me up — brokenhearted. My father took the news well. He didn’t get mad, didn’t obsess on it (like I would, if it was one of my kids) and didn’t even call the church the next day (as I would have done). It was no use; the coat was gone; someone else was wearing that beauty. If Dad had obsessed about it — and maybe he understood this — it would have made me feel even worse than I did. I never forgot his even-keeled reaction, even though that was an expensive coat, by 1960s standards, and it was a monetary loss that stung our middle-class family.

So, I sympathize and empathize with the folks who had their coats lost or stolen at Downtown Airport. What a disheartening, upsetting way to start the New Year. I feel their pain and frustration.

**

The Downtown Airport coat debacle immediately reminded me of an unusual coat incident that occurred in the 1970s in Independence.

The central figure in this episode was a man named Dick King, who, I believe was Independence mayor at the time — a fact that made this not only more bizarre but also newsworthy.

King and several other people went to the old Zuider Zee restaurant on Noland Road one night and found there was a relatively long wait to be seated. If King tried to use his mayoral status to get his name to the top of the list, it didn’t get him anywhere. Then, buoyed by alcohol, he went to the coat rack, swept up a large armful of coats and headed out the door. I don’t know what, if anything, his companions did or said, but, at any rate, King got out on I-70 and started flinging the coats out of the car.

The Star reported later that at least a few of the people who had their coats stolen got them back. I don’t know what shape they were in, but at least they got them back.

King later acknowledged that he had a drinking problem and cleaned up his act. He went on to become one of Kansas City’s leading development attorneys. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1991, the year that Emanuel Cleaver was elected to the first of his two terms.

In 2006, King died of cancer at age 62…The coat theft, of course, was not in his obituary. But I’ll tell you this, anyone who was involved in local politics in the 1970s remembers the infamous Dick King coat caper at the Zuider Zee.

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