Streetcar Extension Plan Fails to Make FY 2020 Federal Budget Cut

An illustration of a future streetcar extension on Main at 31st Street. (Image from HDR)

By Kevin Collison

The planned extension of the streetcar from downtown to UMKC failed to make the funding cut in the proposed new federal budget, a setback local streetcar officials hope to overcome next year.

The Federal Transit Administration’s budget recommendation for FY 2020 did not include the $151.6 million being sought by the Kansas City Streetcar Authority to help fund approximately half the cost of the $316.6 million project.

“The Kansas City Streetcar project is in only the first phase — project development — of the (Capital Investment Grant) program’s multi-step, multi-year process,” an FTA spokesperson said Thursday.

“Until it completes remaining steps in the process, it is not yet ready for consideration for a funding allocation.”

Streetcar officials knew their funding application was a long shot this year because the project has not completed its engineering phase.

Still, a favorable recommendation the FTA staff gave their funding application in late March had left them hopeful.

“It’s not going to stop us,” Donna Mandelbaum, spokeswoman for the Streetcar Authority, says. “It’s a bump in the road and we still have a long ways to go.”

A revised schedule for extending the streetcar from downtown to UMKC along Main Street indicates the project could be operational by 2024 if federal funding is received by FY 2021. (Image from KC Streetcar Authority)

Mandelbaum said the authority learned Wednesday via social media the Kansas City project had been passed over in this year’s FTA budget proposal.

While Congress could add projects to the final FY 2020 budget, Mandelbaum was doubtful Kansas City would receive such a late nod.

“Even though our (FTA) ratings were good, we’re only in the project development phase,” she said. “The majority of projects they like to see receive funding are in the engineering phase.”

Mandelbaum said the streetcar extension project could still achieve its revised timetable of being operational by 2024 if it receives funding in the FY 2021 budget.

Earlier projections called for the extended line to be running by 2023.

The planned 3.5-mile extension of the streetcar line along Main Street from downtown to UMKC is considered a vital step toward realizing the full potential of the system.

The 2.2-mile downtown line, which runs along Main between Union Station and the River Market, opened in May 2016 and surpassed 6 million riders in late March.

The estimated cost of the entire streetcar extension project is $316.6 million with roughly the other half of the funding coming from a local transportation development district already approved by voters living within its boundaries along the route.

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

The FTA’s decision not to include the Kansas City project in its budget recommendation adds more importance to begin engineering work along the route.

“We are still proceeding with this project as we have been and our goal is to get into the engineering phase by the end of this year,” Mandelbaum says. “The FTA likes to see projects are in the engineering phase and further along.

“Our schedule called for federal funding by 2021. We’ll reapply and keep moving forward.”

While it wants to start engineering work, the Streetcar Authority still be must find funding and select a firm to do the work. Mandelbaum did not have an estimate for the cost of the engineering study.

The FTA’s recommended Capital Investment Grants budget for FY 2020 totals $1.36 billion for 16 new and existing transit projects. The new projects receiving funding were all for bus rapid transit projects in Jacksonville, Fla.; Reno, Nev.; Albany, NY; Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash.

This article appeared originally on the KCUR public radio website.


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