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Streetcar Authority Looks to Extend Line Over River to Booming North KC

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3 minute read

By Kevin Collison

The KC Streetcar Authority is pursuing a long-sought extension over the river into North Kansas City, seeking proposals that would result in a detailed plan by mid-2022 about its design and financing.

The agency has released a request for proposals that’s due later this month. It would use as a starting point the results of a NorthRail Streetcar Study completed in 2014.

That earlier report recommended an approximately two-mile extension that would cross the river on the Heart of America/Missouri 9 bridge and follow Burlington Road to a terminus in the heart of downtown North Kansas City at Armour Road.

“A lot has changed since 2014,” Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, said in a briefing to potential applicants this week.

“We now have an operational streetcar system. We have a city in North Kansas City with a change in elected leadership and has rapidly changed.

“It’s grown tremendously since 2014, with major development activity underway and pending that will continue to transform the City of North Kansas City into its own vibrant activity center, neighborhood and destination.”

The 2014 NorthRail Streetcar Study recommended adapting the Heart of America/Missouri 9 Bridge to bring the streetcar over the Missouri River to North Kansas City. (Image from NorthRail study)

The new study is being funded by the Streetcar Authority, KC Area Transportation Authority and City of North Kansas City.

In recent years, North Kansas City, with a population of roughly 5,000, has capitalized on the revitalization occurring in downtown Kansas City, adding apartments and entertainment venues including microbreweries and the popular Chicken N Pickle.

As an example, a nine-story, 208-unit apartment project is currently going up near Burlington Road and Armour that would be one of the taller, if not the tallest, building in the mostly low-rise community.

North Kansas City political and civic leaders have considered an extension of the streetcar into their community as another step in their redevelopment vision. The 2014 study was conducted at its request and co-funded by the City of Kansas City.

That report explored three options for crossing the river, the ASB railroad bridge, the Heart of America Bridge and a completely new transit bridge before recommending the Heart of America Bridge as the most affordable and pragmatic option.

The NorthRail study recommended Burlington Road as the streetcar extension route. (Image from NorthRail study)

The estimated cost for retrofitting the Heart of America was $24.5 million, a project that would be funded separately from the potential streetcar extension. It would continue to be used for vehicular traffic and as a crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“Moving the bike/pedestrian lane to the west side, and placing the streetcar on the east side was determined to offer the best balance of cost and operating flexibility,” according to the NorthRail study.

The 2014 report explored using either Swift Street or Burlington Road as the route for the streetcar. It ultimately recommended Burlington for the following reasons:

Was consistent with past regional rail plans for service to the Northland,
Provided more direct, higher speed service for future rail expansion,
Was consistent with existing North Kansas City development efforts identified in the
Burlington Corridor Plan and supported by the Burlington Overlay District,
Offered more long-term development opportunities, and
Permitted the development of a single track alternative, not feasible on Swift, which
increases streetcar implementation options.

The estimated cost of building the Burlington streetcar route to Armour Road in the 2014 report was $56.6 million.

The NorthRail report stated that North Kansas City officials at the time had wanted a streetcar route that would extend to the city’s north border at 32nd Avenue, but estimated the cost at approximately $134 million, “substantially exceeding local funding capacity.”

The recommended mechanism to build and operate the streetcar extension was creating a Transportation Development District (TDD), the same method used to build the downtown Kansas City streetcar line and now its extension on Main to UMKC.

North Kansas City has experienced a boom in recent years. This nine-story apartment project is going up near where a streetcar route would potentially end near Armour Road and Burlington.

In the case of North Kansas City, the report stated the entire community would need to be included in the TDD. That would mean a property tax surcharge and additional sales tax imposed on all residents and businesses.

The NorthRail study assumed a one percent sales tax and a property tax, similar to the Kansas City TDD, that varied by commercial and residential uses.

“In general, the commercial property tax rate is up to 0.15 percent of market value. Residential is approximately 0.13 percent of market value,” the reported stated.

In Kansas City, the boundaries of the current streetcar TDD run approximately one-third mile on each side of the line.

“It was formed to correspond to streetcar access/benefit (those who benefit pay) and many of the properties included were low-value surface lots, etc.,” Gerend said in an email.

Gerend said the new request for proposals to re-evaluate and refine a plan for extending the line to North Kansas City would “advance a path forward” to make the North Kansas City route the third extension of the basic system that began operations in May 2016.

The Streetcar Authority is currently building a 3.5-mile extension from downtown to UMKC on Main that’s expected to begin running in early 2025. It’s also well along planning a one-half mile extension to Berkley Riverfront Park that expected to be operational in early 2024.

“We once again have the opportunity to lay the ground work for evaluating what is feasible and what is possible,” Gerend said.

“The goal at the end of this effort is coming up with an identified, feasible concept that meets the needs and expectations of the City of North Kansas City.”

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