By Kevin Collison
The head of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority had a rare chance to testify before Congress last week and personally lobby federal transit officials about the planned extension of the streetcar from downtown to UMKC.
Tom Gerend, Streetcar Authority executive director, came back encouraged about the agency’s chances next year to obtain the $151 million from Washington necessary to extend the line another three miles south on Main Street.
“It raises the visibility of the success we’ve had and the fact we have great project in the pipeline,” he said. “We’re competing with projects across the country.”
Gerend was the only local transit agency official to testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and also had face time in Washington with Jane Williams, administrator of the Federal Transportation Administration.
The Committee was looking into concerns the FTA capital grant program, which supplies funding to build transit projects, was being delayed throughout the country.
“Many of the Democrats are from big cities and the weren’t happy with the trajectory of the program,” Gerend said.
“For us, it was an opportunity to reinforce the importance of the program and how instrumental it’s been in Kansas City.”
The Streetcar Authority applied for capital grant funding last year from Washington, but was turned down on its first go around because the Main Street Extension project still must complete several criteria including an engineering study.
It has already line up its local funding with the approval by voters living within the Main Street corridor of a Transportation Development District that will levy a property tax surcharge and additional one-cent sales tax.
The Kansas City Council also recently approved the city’s commitment to partner in the extension by issuing bonds once the federal funding is obtained.
Gerend said his meeting with FTA Administrator Williams and her staff went well.
“We’re still working closely with the FTA on the current project,” he said.
“They’ve been good partners in the past and this was a chance to reinforce what the initial streetcar project has done to bolster transit in terms of ridership and economic development.”
The downtown streetcar celebrated its third anniversary in May, and provided 6.2 million rides during its first three years. A fifth streetcar also recently joined the fleet and a sixth will be delivered later this year.
Gerend said the authority plans to resubmit the Main Street Extension project to the FTA staff in August for its review. The proposal received a “medium-high” recommendation last year from the federal agency.
The full engineering study by HDR is expected to begin by the end of the year. The extension plan already has completed its environmental review.
According to the Streetcar Authority project calendar, if the FTA approves a capital grant for the project by early 2021, the project will still be able to meet its goal of having the streetcar running to UMKC by 2024.
“We continue to get really positive feedback from the FTA and we’re slogging through their process and checking the boxes,” Gerend said.
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