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FTA Grants Full $174M for Streetcar Extension to UMKC, Signing Early January

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(Updated Jan. 7, 2021: Federal officials are scheduled to finalize full funding for the Main Street streetcar extension project at an event tomorrow (Friday) morning, according to a media alert from the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.

Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams, Mayor Quinton Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt, local elected officials, members of the KC Streetcar Authority board of directors, the KCATA, project partners and others are scheduled to participate for what’s described as a “major funding announcement,” according to the alert.) 

By Kevin Collison

Kansas City is on the cusp of receiving full funding from the feds to extend the streetcar along Main Street from downtown to UMKC, a $174 million Christmas present from Washington.

Streetcar Authority officials were notified by the Federal Transit Administration of the decision, which now goes to Congress for a 30-day review. It’s anticipated a final signing will occur in early January.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Authority. “It’s a little bit shocking because of all the challenges and effort that was required.

“It’s a point of pride that Kansas City is delivering on this streetcar and that we can do big things too. This affirms that we can compete with the big projects in the country and we can win.

“We can still do big things that will have a big impact on the city for decades to come.”

An FTA spokesperson confirmed the agency has completed its review of the Kansas City funding request and submitted its recommendation to Congress.

“The FTA has completed the review of the Kansas City Streetcar Main Street Extension Project required by Federal law to award a full funding grant agreement,” according to a statement.

“FTA has provided Congress with the mandatory 30-day advance notification of the proposed grant agreement.”

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 remainder of the funding will come from a Transportation Development District already approved by voters living in the streetcar corridor.

It will be funded by a one-cent sales tax charged at businesses within the TDD border and a special property tax surcharge on residential and commercial properties within its boundaries.

Gerend said the TDD sales tax will likely begin this summer and property owners will see the new assessment on their tax bills next fall.

The FTA approval of the funding for the Main Street extension project has occurred more rapidly than anticipated. It was just August the FTA announced the first installment, $50.8 million for the project.

Gerend said that will hopefully allow the authority to complete the project earlier than the current 2025 timetable.

Rendering of a UMKC-bound streetcar leaving downtown on Main Street. (Image from HDR)

“Expediting the grant is hugely helpful,” he said. “It’s very possible we can beat that date. Our agency is pushing to get this done as fast as we can.”

The Streetcar Authority already has established a project office at 1 E. Armour Blvd. Officials say work on the Main Street extension should be less disruptive than the downtown project because it will involve less utility work.

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.

Anticipation of the new project already has unleashed substantial development in the Main Street corridor, including the $34 million renovation of the historic Netherland building into apartments.

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.”

A preliminary map of the Transportation Development District. Business’s in the TDD are expected to begin collecting an extra one cent sales tax to help fund the project beginning this summer; residential and commercial property owners will see an additional property tax surcharge on their tax bills next fall. (Map by KC Streetcar Authority)

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.

In a press release, Mayor Quinton Lucas thanked federal officials, including the Kansas City Congressional delegation for its help securing the FTA funding.

“The extension of the streetcar represents the next step in our vision to make transportation free and available to all, and will provide good jobs to Kansas Citians as it is being built,”  Lucas said.

“Today’s federal funding approval marks another big step toward beginning work on this extension.

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