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Streetcar Expansion Steams Ahead in D.C. and City Hall, Big Local Firms On Board

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2 minute read

(Editor’s note: The City Council approved the $4.7 million and $2.7 million contracts to continue designing and planning the proposed streetcar extension at its meeting April 16)

By Kevin Collison

Streetcar officials are confident their funding application for the Main Street extension remains on track in Washington despite the federal government’s record $2 trillion emergency appropriation to address the Covid-19 crisis.

“The project funding is still there and the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) staff is still working on administering the program,” Tom Gerend, executive director of the KC Streetcar Authority said this week.

“The Covid response is affecting everybody, but there’s no reason to be nervous about the broader program or our program in particular. It’s not in jeopardy.”

The Streetcar Authority will be seeking $174.1 million from Washington for the $351.6 million extension project along Main Street from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The remainder of the cost will be paid for locally through a transportation development district (TDD) approved by voters living within the planned Main Street extension TDD in 2018.

The TDD will levy a property tax surcharge and additional one-cent sales tax within its borders. Those local revenue sources won’t be activated until the federal funding is obtained.

The proposed extension of the streetcar line also has two funding requests before the Kansas City Council.

The Council is being asked to authorize a $4.7 million contract with a team led by HDR to advance the design work for the project from its current 30 percent level to 60 percent. The more refined design is required by the FTA as part of the application process.

Streetcar ridership has been down 50 percent since public health restrictions were imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Council also is being asked to approve a $2.7 million pre-construction service contract with a joint venture led by Herzog Contracting of St. Joseph and Stacy & Witbeck of Alameda, Calif.

Gerend said two local heavyweight companies have been added to the pre-construction joint venture: Burns & McDonnell and J.E. Dunn.

“I’m happy to see a partnership with our big local firms,” he said.

The streetcar contracts were introduced this week to the Council Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee. The Committee delayed consideration until April 8.

Gerend said that while the Council is required to approve funding for the contracts, the money does not come from the city budget or general obligation bonds.

The funding will come from the Streetcar Authority through a combination of revenues from the existing Downtown Transportation Development District and the Streetcar Authority reserve.

“What the city is being asked to do is act as the financial conduit for the contracts,” he said.

The Streetcar Authority is expecting to obtain a full funding agreement with the FTA in the first quarter of next year. The earliest the Main Street extension could be operational is late 2024 or early 2025.

In the meantime, the public health restrictions prompted by the Covid crisis has affected ridership on the downtown streetcar dramatically. Gerend estimated ridership has dropped at least 50 percent since restrictions on public gatherings were imposed.

In response, the authority has cut back hours with service ending at 8 p.m. It’s also operating smaller trains with two cars instead of the usual three.

(Editor’s note: CityScene KC is now a paid subscription publication, please consider subscribing.)

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