Streetcar Leader Praises New Fed Funding Report, Optimistic About Extension Plan

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

By Kevin Collison

A new federal transit funding report released Tuesday has streetcar officials optimistic the planned Main Street extension from downtown to UMKC should be ready to roll financially by early next year.

“All the important stakeholders say we’re on the right track and the odds are really good,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.

The Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant Report continued to rate the Kansas City project favorably and indicates enough funding should be available in the recommended upcoming federal budget.

“Existing commitments account for about 50 percent of the anticipated program’s available funding,” Gerend said.

“The remaining funding is available for new projects like ours and we will be competing for those resources through the remainder of the calendar year.

“We are still anticipating a full funding grant agreement in the first quarter of 2021 and the FTA has lead us to believe this is very much obtainable.”

The Streetcar Authority will be seeking $174.1 million from Washington for the $351.6 million extension project.

The remainder of the cost will be paid for locally through a transportation development district approved by voters living within the TDD in 2018. The TDD will levy a property tax surcharge and additional one-cent sales tax within its borders.

Gerend said the FTA report continued to give the Kansas City streetcar extension plan a medium-high rating, the highest possible, and also improved its rating for the local financial commitment to medium-high.

A map of the current and planned Kansas City streetcar system was included in the Federal Transit Administration report. (Map from FTA)

He said the Kansas City Council’s decision last year to back the project financing was key to improving its local financing rating.

“Our federal delegation is fully on board and we have strong local support and we’ve had a great track record with our current project,” Gerend said.

Streetcar officials also have been lobbying city leaders about the importance of maintaining the city’s annual financial contribution to the system.

Should the Streetcar Authority obtain the necessary federal funding for the 3.6-mile extension project, the earliest it could be operational is late 2024 or early 2025, Gerend said.

In its report, the Federal Transit Administration staff said there is significant economic development opportunities along the Main Street route.

“Nearly 48 acres of vacant land in addition to a number of surface parking lots could be redeveloped with transit-supportive densities and character,” the report found.

“The corridor’s economic environment appears to be reasonably strong relative to Kansas City as a whole, with higher home prices and lower commercial vacancy rates.”

The report indicated when fully operational, the streetcar is expected to operate every 10 minutes during weekday peak and off-peak periods and evenings, and every 12 minutes during weekends.

The agency estimated the streetcar line would carry 7,300 “linked trips” per day and 2.3 million annually.

“The project is intended to connect the growing activity centers in the corridor, improve transit service, and support economic development with efficient, reliable and effective transit service,” according to the FTA report.

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