By Kevin Collison
The planned riverfront streetcar extension will be almost three soccer fields longer than originally planned to bring riders closer to the new KC Current stadium to be built east of Berkley Park.
Streetcar chief Tom Gerend said a revised plan for the half-mile streetcar extension now brings the line to the middle of Berkley Park rather than its earlier planned terminus at its west side.
He estimated the change will bring the streetcar stop 800- to 1,000 feet–about the length of three soccer fields–closer to the new stadium.
“We’ve been working…in light of the announcement of the stadium to think about how do we leverage the current project to have a more intentional experience with closer proximity from day one,” Gerend told the Downtown Council during a streetcar briefing Thursday.
The Streetcar Authority ultimately plans to extend the route farther east to the Bally’s Kansas City casino in a future phase.
Gerend also said the streetcar extension under construction on Main Street from downtown to UMKC will include many features that will not only add rail transit to the corridor, but make it better for pedestrians as well.
A sidewalk is planned for the east side of Main by Crown Center as the route climbs the hill from Union Station to the Federal Reserve Bank, and the street will be narrowed from the current six-lanes of traffic to four, leaving an exclusive lane for the streetcar.
“We’ll have a transit-only lane southbound and a mobility lane for bikes and scooters that’s dedicated,” Gerend said. “It will really change the feel of the area including adding sidewalks to the east side of street that don’t exist.”
He told Downtown Council board members the $350 million Main Street extension is a key opportunity to reconnect the urban core of the city from the riverfront to the Country Club Plaza and finally the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.
“I’ve seen what streetcar meant to downtown, but what the streetcar and this investment means to Main Street is a new era of connectivity for the city,” he said.
“That River Crown Plaza vision that Mayor Barnes talked about is something that’s become a reality.”
This year is the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority and this May will be the sixth anniversary of the opening of the 2.2-mile downtown starter line. The system has had about 10 million “passenger trips” to date.
Gerend said there’s been a 56 percent increase in sales tax revenues in the downtown streetcar transportation district, and a 40 percent increase in residential density within three blocks of the line.
The Main Street extension and riverfront extension projects have attracted a combined $190 million in federal funding to match local contributions.
“This is by far and away, the largest federal investment in transit the region has ever made,” Gerend said.
“It’s also far and away the largest transit capital projects we’ve ever built.”
The Streetcar Authority also will be expanding its current fleet of streetcars from six to 14 to serve the larger system. The first car is scheduled to be delivered in August 2023. As part of the project, the authority maintenance facility is being expanded as well.
In addition to the improvements along the Main Street route adjoining Crown Center, the route as it runs through Midtown should provide similar enhancements to the existing street environment.
Gerend said Main will be narrowed through the heart of Midtown and sidewalks widened and “green infrastructure” added.
“(We’ll build) landscaped medians in places through Midtown which will really change the aesthetic of Midtown adding trees and greenery that don’t currently exist,” he said.
The stops planned for the Plaza and UMKC also will be larger and better sheltered than others on the route to function as regional transit hubs.
“This is really representing this change in function from a downtown circulator to the regional spine of system more akin to what you’d see with a light rail line.”
The current schedule calls for construction to be completed on the Main Street extension in early December 2024. The new line is not expected to begin serving riders until early 2025.
Gerend also told the Downtown Council the construction of the actual streetcar line should not be as disruptive as the current utility work underway on Main Street which is part of the project.
“We’re in the hardest phase of that effort right now because of the private utility work,” he said. “We have 20 independent private utility contractors finding their space in the public right of way along with KC Water doing sewer and water.
“The streetcar work is much more controllable and predictable from a sequential standpoint…The commitment is we’re going to maintain two-way access on Main Street.”
Gerend said the Authority plans to maintain access to businesses along Main Street “even if it’s temporarily constructed.”
In related news, the planned pedestrian and bicycle bridge to the riverfront that would parallel the Grand Viaduct is expected to begin construction in early 2023 and be completed by the end of 2025, according to Maggie Green, a spokeswoman for the city.
“The actual bridge opening will be contingent on the planned art work being installed after the bridge is complete,” she said. “We are scheduled to select an artist in February for the planned artwork.”
When the bike/ped bridge was first announced, it had been anticipated that construction would start by late 2021. The project was delayed however, when the City Council decided not to fully fund the $5.25 million project.
The new funding plan now has the city, the Streetcar Authority and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority jointly paying for the bridge.
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