Streetcar Looks East and West to KU Med in Proposed New Study

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A potential extension of the streetcar on West 39th Street to KU Med and Hospital (background) would be more technically challenging that any of the current extensions being considered by the KC Streetcar Authority.

By Kevin Collison

A one-mile streetcar extension that would take passengers west on 39th Street from the new Main Street line and across the border to the KU Med Center is the subject of a study that won Streetcar Authority support Thursday.

It also would explore extending a potential line east of Main along Linwood.

“We’ve talked in general as the Main Street extension moves forward to look at extending it beyond Main,” Tom Gerend, Streetcar executive director. “We’re in the early phases of discussion.

“There’s strong support and interest from parties and a formal request from KU Med.”

The presentation to the Streetcar Authority indicated KU Med wants to improve connectivity with regional medical complexes.

“The Health System would much rather invest in world class health care technology instead of paying to park more vehicles on the campus,” Bob Page, president and CEO of the KU Health System, said in a statement.

“In addition, the western extension would also have environmental benefits as vehicle traffic would be reduced.”

In other streetcar developments, Gerend said the cost of building the planned riverfront extension from the River Market to Berkley Riverfront Park has escalated from earlier estimates and will take longer to complete.

The estimated cost of the streetcar extension to the riverfront has risen 27 percent and the completion date pushed back to early 2025. (Map from KC Streetcar Authority)

The estimated cost of the one-half mile extension has risen 27 percent, from $20.2 million to $25.7 million, and will not be ready until early 2025. The Authority had once projected an early 2024 completion.

The downtown line also continues to lag in ridership because of the Covid pandemic, its been down on average about 50 percent compared to 2019 before the pandemic hit.

The board also was given a brief overview of a potential streetcar extension to North Kansas City.

As for the 39th Street study, Gunnar Hand, director of planning for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, said the UG is interested in participating.

“East-west connections have eroded over time,” Hand said. “We see this as an opportunity to strengthen our connections to Kansas City, Missouri.”

Hand said that an eventual streetcar stop on Rainbow Avenue would be the preferred option. That would take the extension through the heart of the medical district that includes University of Kansas healthcare professional schools and KU Hospital.

Building an east-west streetcar route has long been discussed, but in the context of Kansas City proper, not KCK. An attempt to expand the streetcar both along Main and to East Side via Linwood Boulevard and Independence Avenue was defeated by voters in 2014.

The proposed 39th Street and Linwood joint study effort will require funding support from the KC Streetcar Authority, UG, KU Med and the KC Area Transportation Authority.

Streetcar ridership remains about 50 percent below its pre-Covid level.

“We are excited that KCSA has advanced matching funds to study east/west connectivity for the region’s essential healthcare workers and the Truman Sports Complex,” Robbie Makinen, KCATA president and CEO, said in a statement.

The concept has the support of Mayor Quinton Lucas as well, according to the Streetcar Authority, but the city is not being asked to participate financially.

The Streetcar Authority board authorized spending $75,000, but on the condition a similar amount comes from the other partners.

Gerend also said the study would include extending the streetcar east from Main on Linwood as far as Prospect, a moved welcomed by Authority board member Michael Collins.

“An east-west route is critical,” Collins said, “It’s important to get more people included in the streetcar.”

Any plan to extend the route west on 39th Street would bring the streetcar into new territory, both geographically and technically. The street is narrower and less densely developed than the current downtown line and the planned extension on Main to UMKC.

“If you’ve driven on West 39th and with a streetcar there, obviously something has to give,” said board member David Johnson.

“The public involvement would have to be huge and we’ll have to go to stakeholders where they are.”

Should the other partners agree to fund the study, it would likely begin early next year and take about one year to complete. Gerend raised the possibility a future east-west extension could begin as a Bus Rapid Transit line and later phased to a streetcar.

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