Streetcar Extension Plan Rolls into 2018 with Key Recognition from Feds

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Backers of streetcar extension plan win approval necessary to ultimately apply for federal funding.

By Kevin Collison

The planned extension of the Kansas City streetcar to UMKC received a preliminary thumbs up from Washington last week, allowing backers to apply for an estimated $100 million in federal funding this fall.

Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, said authorization by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to move the project into the “project development” phase was an critical milestone in eventually seeking federal funding.

“It gives us pre-award authorization that allows us to be reimbursed for portions of the work and it’s a necessary step to position ourselves for federal funding,” he said.

Combined with an amendment proposal now before the Kansas City Council that would allow city participation in planning, the streetcar expansion proposal continues to roll into 2018.

The earliest a Main Street extension could be operational is 2022. It would connect downtown with Midtown/Westport, the Country Club Plaza and UMKC at 51st and Brookside.

A separate plan that extends the route to Berkley Riverfront Park, also is in the works.

This year, Gerend said substantial planning for the Main Street alignment will continue under a previous $1 million grant funded jointly by the Streetcar Authority and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA).

The formal application for what he anticipated would be $100 million in federal funding to build the extension is expected this fall.

In the meantime, the City Council is expected to consider an amendment to an ordinance narrowly approved by city voters last summer. It prohibited the city from planning or implementing additional rail service beyond downtown without a citywide vote.

Streetcar advocates believe that ordinance violated earlier contractual commitments made by the city for planning both the Main Street and the riverfront extensions.

The amendment filed last month by six Council members, including Mayor Sly James, would allow the city to honor those previous contracts. It would continue to require a citywide vote for any further rail construction.

The amendment could come up as early as this month. A nine-vote majority on the 13-member Council is necessary for approval.

Gerend said that while the Streetcar Authority is not seeking city funding beyond the $2 million annual appropriation already approved for downtown, city planning is important because any extension would require changes to the existing public infrastructure.

“We need the city involved in how the system is implemented,” he said. “We feel we have a project that can advance without city funding, but we need the city at the table to determine how it can benefit Midtown.”

In addition to the Streetcar Authority, the KCATA and the city were involved in seeking designation for the project from federal transportion officials.

“While it’s not a commitment of federal funds, it is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recognition of the streetcar project and it places Kansas City’s streetcar extension on their list of projects that could be considered for future funding,” Richard Jarrold, KCATA senior vice president for strategic planning, said in a statement.

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Eventually, the streetcar route is planned to extend from the riverfront to UMKC. (KC Streetcar Authority)