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‘Great Day for KC,’ Feds Green-Light Main Street Extension of Streetcar

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(Editor’s note: Updated Sept. 3 with new renderings of planned Country Club Plaza streetcar stop and a schedule for the Main Street extension presented today by Tom Gerend, KC Streetcar executive director, to the Downtown Council board. 

The current schedule calls for actual streetcar line construction to begin two years from now. Testing of the completed route with streetcars would start in February 2025 and actual operations would begin in late 2025.

While the schedule describes it as ‘pre-revenue operations’ and ‘revenue service,’ Gerend said those are technical terms and the service will be free to riders as originally planned.

He also said the sooner-than-expected federal funding allocation for the Main Street extension project is “an opportunity with the strong federal partnership to move some of these dates up.”

He said the project office for the extension will be located in the former Hostess offices at 12 E. Armour, at the corner of Main.

Gerend also told the board the Streetcar Authority may here back from Washington within two- to three weeks about its funding application for the separate plan to extend the streetcar line to Berkley Riverfront Park.)

Streetcar Main Street extension schedule as of Sept 3 (Graphic by KC Streetcar Authority)

By Kevin Collison

The Main Street extension of the streetcar from downtown to UMKC is official following the announcement today the Federal Transit Administration is allocating $50.8 million to the project, the first installment toward building the route.

“The significance of today’s federal funding announcement for the KC Streetcar cannot be overstated,” Tom Gerend, executive director of the Streetcar Authority said in a statement.

“This federal funding will allow our team to advance final design and move into long awaited construction, realizing a transit vision for Kansas City that has been decades in the making.”

The announcement culminates an effort that began shortly after the completion of the initial 2.2-mile downtown streetcar route in May 2016. It’s carried 8 million riders since then.

A map of the current and planned Kansas City streetcar system was included in the Federal Transit Administration report. (Map from FTA)

The 3.5-mile extension from Union Station to UMKC will cost an estimated $351.6 million.

The Streetcar Authority is requesting a total of $174.1 million from Washington for the extension project.

The remainder of the cost will be paid for locally through a transportation development district approved by voters living within the TDD in 2018. The TDD will levy a property tax surcharge and additional one-cent sales tax within its borders.

The announcement by Washington this morning of the $50.8 million initial round of construction funding means the project is now a go.

“It’s a great day for Kansas City,” Gerend said.

Earlier this year, the Streetcar Authority released a bird-eye virtual video of how the streetcar extension would look that you can see here.

The streetcar Main Street extension is currently in the design phase and the City Water Department plans to begin the necessary water and sewer upgrades this fall.

The current schedule estimates the actual streetcar construction will begin in late 2021 or early 2022, and operations beginning in 2025.

The announcement of federal funding for the project is much sooner than anticipated. Streetcar officials had not anticipated hearing back from Washington until early next year.

A rendering of the planned Plaza stop near Cleaver and Main streets. (Image from KC Streetcar Authority)

Gerend said the quickness of the turnaround was the result of federal funding coming from existing money remaining in the 2020 Fiscal Year budget.

“We were able to position ourselves to receive it by a great push from our regional Congressional delegate to get our foot in the door,” he said.

He said there is a possibility the earlier than anticipated funding could accelerate the construction time schedule, but at a minimum, it keeps the project moving.

“We will look for opportunities to expedite the schedule, without doubt,” he said.

Local officials hailed the FTA announcement today.

The funding application had been supported by the city and RideKC as well as the Congressional delegation.

“This significant federal grant award helps ensure this key transit project will be completed on schedule, providing thousands of good jobs to Kansas Citians along the way,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a statement.

Robbie Makinen, KCATA president and CEO, said the announcement reinforces the “credibility of the entire RideKC regional network.

“The KC Streetcar Main Street Extension will be a catalyst to bringing equity in transit and spurring development, especially in the post-pandemic environment,” Makinen said in a statement.

Street view of planned Plaza streetcar stop. (Image from KC Streetcar Authority)

The Main Street extension is expected to spur substantial economic development along the route.

In a report last February, the FTA staff said there is significant economic development opportunities along the Main Street route.

“Nearly 48 acres of vacant land in addition to a number of surface parking lots could be redeveloped with transit-supportive densities and character,” the report found.

“The corridor’s economic environment appears to be reasonably strong relative to Kansas City as a whole, with higher home prices and lower commercial vacancy rates.”

The report indicated when fully operational, the streetcar is expected to operate every 10 minutes during weekday peak and off-peak periods and evenings, and every 12 minutes during weekends.

The agency estimated the streetcar line would carry 7,300 “linked trips” per day and 2.3 million annually.

“The project is intended to connect the growing activity centers in the corridor, improve transit service, and support economic development with efficient, reliable and effective transit service,” according to the FTA report.

Last summer, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority submitted a plan to City Hall that would encourage the development of affordable housing along the route. It still has not been considered by the City Council.

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