We're now officially on T-watch.
For the next 83 days - some would say like sands through an hourglass - a drama will unfold to determine whether the city's fixed-route transit system lives or dies.
City commissioners Tuesday night officially raised the curtain by placing two transit sales tax questions on the Nov. 4 ballot - a 0.2 of 1 percent tax that would provide operating dollars for the system, and a 0.05 of 1 percent tax that would provide the city additional money to replace the bus system's aging fleet.
Here are some story lines to watch for.
Mayor Mike Dever - who first proposed using a sales tax to save the transit system from a 2009 operating deficit estimated at $1 million - has long said he thinks the success of the sales tax initiatives will hinge on whether voters believe the city and university can successfully merge their buses into one better system.
The university and the city in July signed a letter of intent saying they want a merger by July 2009. But the letter is contingent on the city finding funding.
The big question now is whether the city and university have enough time before the election to develop - and present to voters - firm details on how a merged system would work.
Dever said it may be unrealistic to expect a route map and bus schedule for a new system to be completed by the November election.
"But I know we owe it to the voters to present them with what the vision for a merged system would be," Dever said.
That means voters should expect general descriptions of where new routes would be and an explanation of how much more frequently buses would run in a merged system.
Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit, was reluctant to make commitments about how much information could be developed before the elections.
"There are probably a lot more questions than answers right now," Kaiser said "But I agree that it would be very helpful to let the voters know what type of system they may be getting."
Kaiser, though, said neither the university nor the city has taken the first major step in developing the details of a new system. The July letter of intent called for the city and KU to each appoint a team of representatives to begin discussions on what a new system would include. Neither side has appointed a team.
"My personal preference is it would have been nice to have been meeting by now," Kaiser said. "But we're not out of time. We still have time to talk."
Over the last week, concerns - fueled by a city staff analysis - have increased that the proposed 0.2 percent sales tax would not generate enough money to cover all expenses of the T. That led Dever to propose the 0.05 percent sales tax that would be in addition to the 0.2 percent.
But the way the ballot issue is set up, the 0.2 percent tax could pass and the 0.05 percent tax could fail. That would leave KU leaders with a major question: Is the city bringing its fair share of funding to a merged system?
Kaiser said the university hadn't yet done that analysis. But he said he had been following concerns that the 0.2 percent sales tax does not give the city enough money to replace its aging fleet of buses.
Whether the lack of a bus replacement plan would be enough to kill a merger between KU and the city isn't yet known.
"It would be a talking point," Kaiser said.
As early as this month, City Manager David Corliss is expected to talk with private transit providers about how the city could run a small-scale paratransit service if the sales tax questions fail in November.
The city has about $600,000 in a transit reserve fund that it could use for one year to pay for a paratransit service for the elderly and disabled. But how much service is a key question.
Corliss already has described any such system as "bare bones," and has said he's not sure $600,000 would be enough to provide any service.
Dever, though, did not rule out the possibility of finding additional money for paratransit service, even if the sales tax vote fails. Dever said he thinks the sales tax questions are referendums on whether the public supports the T, not the city's existing paratransit service for the elderly and disabled.
The two transit sales tax questions are in addition to a third ballot question that would provide a 0.3 of 1 percent sales tax for streets, sidewalk construction, fire trucks, stormwater projects and an east Lawrence trail project.
Dever has said he's confident voters won't become confused over the bevy of ballot questions. But that is not a unanimous opinion. Commissioners Mike Amyx and Boog Highberger both opposed putting multiple questions on the November ballot. They instead wanted a single sales tax on the ballot that would provide funding for all the various issues.
Amyx and Highberger, though, said they would urge voters to approve the three sales tax questions.