Archive for the 'Funding' Category

Top 13 transit stories of 2013

First Streetcar Track Installed

1. First streetcar weld, first track installed. Even jaded advocates beamed with pride during the November 14 press event showcasing Kansas City’s first new streetcar rails since 1947 (service ended in 1957). Prior to the event, the first weld and installation of track was completed ahead of schedule thanks to excess materials from a Dallas streetcar project.

2. Dismissed, dismissed, and denied. Two downtown property owners — whose combined annual assessments will be about $1,500 — sued the transportation development district set up to fund downtown streetcar construction and operations. A Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit in March, then the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in August, then the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Christmas Eve.  A long-delayed bond sale can now proceed.

3. Phase 2 streetcar advances. Expansion was always in the cards for the initial 2-mile streetcar segment, and the City Council kept its promise by advancing three south-of-the-river corridors for additional study — Main Street Plus (south to Waldo and beyond), 31st/Linwood, and Independence Avenue. Wisely, all three are solid transit corridors today and streetcar corridors of the past. Expansion north of the river is still in planning stages.

4. Transit Emphasis Corridors. It hasn’t been widely reported, but refocusing all bus routes that terminate downtown on just two streets — 12th Street and Grand Boulevard — would result in the highest level of transit service in the entire region (1-2 minute peak headways). Changes could come on Grand as early next year (along with federally-funded bike lanes), while 12th Street will be implemented in tandem with Prospect MAX.

5. Wyandotte County’s 2014 Budget. In addition to seeing completion of TIGER-funded transit centers and improved State Avenue bus stops, Wyandotte County’s Board of Commissioners approved a 2014 budget that contained two hard-fought rewards: larger buses to relieve overcrowding and a brand new route serving Rosedale and Argentine. Props to the Rosedale Development Association and Transit Action Network for their advocacy work.

6. Prospect MAX advances. The next corridor to get MAX treatment is #71-Prospect, currently the second-highest ridership route in the metro. Genius trumped organizational boundaries as the project was grouped with the Phase 2 streetcar expansions to make the first attempted at package funding in FTA history. The project was originally studied as part of the Jackson County Commuter Corridors.

7. CNG buses. KCATA stepped up their transition from dirty diesel to cleaner Compressed Natural Gas buses. The new vehicles entered service in July.

8. Transit Coordinating Council. This newly-formed replacement for MARC’s Transit Committee hasn’t made a big splash with the public, but wonks are all abuzz about much-needed policy shifts that will finally put our region’s resources where our mouths have collectively pretended to be. On tap in 2014: regional fare structure, regional branding, and more focused regional projects.

9. Commuter rail hopes fade. Indifferent railroad executives, a competing ballot initiative from the state (see #13), and a distracting loss on the translational medicine sales tax added up to a sour year for Mike Sanders’ regional rail proposal. The words are still there, but Jackson County leadership is losing patience for action.

10. Missouri’s multimodal transportation plan. In the last legislative session a bill to put a 1-cent transportation tax in front of voters suffered a last-minute defeat at the hands of a few Tea Party extremists. It would have been the first plan to include “multimodal”, and it reflected new priorities of MoDOT’s “listening tour” that proved Missouri residents aren’t just focused on highways (Missouri is at the bottom of the state transit funding list). The proposal has resurfaced as a petition initiative. If it succeeds, it might compete directly with Jackson County and Kansas City transit plans on the same ballot.

11. Streetcar wins $20 million TIGER grant. After being initially rebuffed due to lack of a local funding source, the Department of Transportation finally came through with additional funding for the downtown streetcar. This grant is in addition to the two other federal grants the project won in 2012.

12. Dedication of streetcar maintenance facility. The new streetcar maintenance facility in Columbus Park was dedicated to longtime transit advocate Kite Singleton on November 7. In an appropriate follow-up, a Columbus Park development project Kite worked on for years found financing specifically due to its proximity to the streetcar line.

13. Daily airport service. People aren’t using it much, but the psychological barrier has been broken: You can now get to KCI seven days a week by a single-seat bus ride from downtown. Service runs from 10th & Main between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

For reference, here’s 2012′s top 12 transit stories.

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First rail installed, next election in 2014

The first segment of streetcar track was installed on Nov. 14 on the new Main Street bridge over I-670, months ahead of schedule. It was the first since a small extension of the original streetcar on Troost Avenue was completed in 1947.

Rebuilding the Main Street bridge over I-670 wasn’t originally supposed to include track installation. Temporarily fill material was planned until full track installation in 2014. That changed when the newly-hired Construction Manager team offered to coordinate installation of excess steel rail from Dallas’ Oak Cliff Streetcar project. It was a bonus that likely wouldn’t have come together had it been in the original plan.

The rail and welding team arrived by truck a few days prior. By Nov. 12, the team had started welding 40-foot segments together to create four continuous rails that would make up the two standard gauge tracks that cross the bridge. Concrete was poured around the new track on Nov. 15. The bridge will reopen to cars and pedestrians by December and will include noise abatement, public art, wider sidewalks, and more clearance for vehicles on the freeway below.

In other Phase 1 news, City Council approved the Construction Manager contract, the purchase of four streetcar vehicles, full funding of the project, and dedicated the vehicle maintenance facility to longtime transit advocate Kite Singleton. The Construction Manager also opened a project office at 1828 Walnut, new developments have been announced along the line, and private utilities began relocating away from the tracks.


Phase 2 election

A 2014 election for Phase 2 streetcar has been proposed, and City Council heard consultant recommendations for scope. Kansas City’s streetcar system could be as large as 10 miles by 2020, triggering a major renewal of the urban core. The top scoring corridors are:

  • Main Street south to UMKC (3.45 miles, $230 million)
  • 31st/Linwood east to Prospect (1.74 miles, $105 million)
  • Independence Avenue east to Benton Boulevard (2.17 miles, $129 million)

Phase 2 costs are in 2019 dollars and generally work out to about $60 million per mile. While the Country Club Right of Way (shown above, near Waldo shops) didn’t score well, it’s relatively low cost of implementation ($35 million per mile), dedicated right of way, and strong neighborhood support could make it an obvious extension further south from UMKC; a southern terminus for that added scope hasn’t been determined, but could be as far as Waldo through the use of single-tracking. The full consultant report is available here.

Consultants recommended a new Transportation Development District levying the same taxes and assessments as the downtown TDD. The new TDD would stretch from the Missouri River south to 63rd (or whatever the southern terminus might be) and State Line east to I-435. The 1% sales tax would apply to the entire district, while the assessments would apply only to properties a reasonable distance from the actual streetcar lines.

As with the downtown TDD, one election would form the district and a second would approve the levies. Due to the larger voting pool, a traditional election would be held, which removes the unpopular application and notary requirements specified in the TDD Act. If both new elections are successful, the downtown TDD could be dissolved with a simple vote of its board as it has no financial obligations.

Phase 2 expansion north of the river is on a different timeline — first public meeting on Nov. 21 — and may take advantage of an existing citywide TDD passed with broad support in 2008.

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Streetcar wins $20 million TIGER grant


Phase 1 of the Kansas City Streetcar just snagged another $20 million in federal funds, this time from the TIGER program. The announcement was leaked to the media yesterday afternoon by Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office. A formal list of winning projects is due from the Department of Transportation next week. $20 million is the full amount requested by the city.

This new funding will augment existing revenue sources: the transportation development district, other local funds (PIAC/TIF), and two previously-awarded federal grants. It’s likely that the city will not issue as much debt as a result, allowing an earlier opportunity to reduce the TDD’s special assessments.

The funds need to be obligated by Sept. 30, 2014, which means the City Council will need to approve the stalled Construction Manager contract as soon as possible to avoid losing out on the money. First public debate is anticipated on Sept. 5. A vehicle announcement has not been made, but is expected shortly.

Other winning projects were a freeway removal project in Rochester, NY; transit capital improvements in Austin; a freight/passenger rail underpass in Springfield, IL; and HOV/light rail lanes in Seattle. US DOT will announce the full list of winners soon.

TIGER is popular with cities because they can apply directly, rather than going through their state DOTs (who often have only highway expansion on the brain). The program has been generous with streetcars in previous rounds, having funded projects in Cincinnati, Dallas, New Orleans, Ft. Lauderdale, Tucson, Detroit, and Atlanta. Providence, Rhode Island, was also an applicant in this round.

The Kansas City area also won a TIGER grant in 2010 that funded the Green Impact Zone and improvements to several bus corridors (Metcalf, State Avenue, North Oak). $5 million in study funding was requested in that application, but was removed from the $50 million winning grant by the US DOT. A $25 million TIGER grant application for the streetcar was rejected in 2012 by the feds for not having local funding in place at the time.

Phase 2 south of the river kicked off with a public meeting on Aug. 8 at Union Station. Phase 2 north of the river should kick off in September.

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AUDIO: KCAF v. Downtown Streetcar TDD

Full audio from the July 16, 2013, oral arguments at the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District are now available.

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Downtown KC streetcar is now fully funded

December 11 was the final deadline — 550 ballots were counted and certified the following day (video | news). With this win, the downtown streetcar is now fully funded (in addition to previously approved federal funding).

This time money was on the line and nearly half (337) of the second election’s voters did not participate in the first election. Supporters gathered at Nara in the Crossroads to celebrate victory with Mayor Sly James and Councilmen Russ Johnson and Jim Glover. Full results were:

Question 1 (1% TDD sales tax):

351 yes

198 no

64% passed

Question 2 (special assessments on TDD property):

344 yes

206 no

63% passed

In the first election, 460 ballots were counted:

Question 1 (formation of the TDD):

319 yes

141 no

69% passed

The City Council immediately began advancing the project again, putting two ordinances on the docket that authorized the Final Design contract with HDR, Inc. and authorize bonds to finance construction. HDR completed the Alternatives Analysis and Advanced Conceptual Engineering phases; they are also currently involved in streetcar projects in Dallas, Tucson, and D.C.

The TDD Board will meet on Dec. 17 to approve the sales tax and assessments, a formality that is expected to occur without delay.

Ground breaking is planned for Spring 2013 with utility work and construction starting in Summer 2013. Operations are still on schedule to begin in 2015.

Councilman Glover said he was committed to expanding the streetcar “throughout the 4th District”, which includes extensions south to UMKC, west to the Bottoms, and east along Independence Avenue.

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Landslide streetcar election win, funding gap closed, expansion discussion begins

It was another big week for the downtown Kansas City streetcar project:

  • 69% of downtown voters said yes to the Transportation Development District’s formation,
  • The City announced the project’s funding gap has been closed, and
  • Councilman Russ Johnson released a list of proposed Phase 2 expansions.

TDD election successful

While process whittled the number of votes cast to 460 from 603 original requests, the winning result was still a resounding victory that was easily predicted based on past transit elections. Downtowners simply want transit options and are willing to pay for them. The final tally was 319 yes, 141 no. The TDD was officially formed the next day in a ruling [PDF] by 16th Circuit Court Judge Charles Atwell.

The same day the TDD was officially formed, the City formed the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, a new non-profit that will run day-to-day operations of the streetcar and advise the City on remaining engineering and construction activities. [Disclosure: I will be serving on the Authority's Board].

Here’s plenty of coverage from the major outlets:

The formation of the TDD kicks off a host of administrative tasks for that entity. River Market resident Matt Staub will represent residents on the TDD Board, joining Mayor Sly James, and Port Authority President & CEO Michael Collins. A commercial property representative will also join the Board. TDD Board meetings are public; the first meeting should occur in late August.

Funding gap closed

Councilman Russ Johnson announced at the streetcar election watch party that a $25 million gap — left by an unsuccessful application for a federal TIGER IV grant — has been filled by:

The streetcar was the highest scoring (79) project on the Missouri-side STP project list. The next highest ranked project was 71 and the lowest was 33. Per the STP Committee, the highest scoring project has never not been funded (either in whole or part). When engineering completes, additional cost savings may be identified.

Expansion discussion opened

Expansion beyond the 2-mile starter line was always on the table, now Councilman Johnson and his colleagues from the 3rd and 4th Districts have publicly opened that discussion to entice neighborhoods to sign on. A PDF map is here, but the corridors are:

  • Independence Avenue (Grand Avenue to Topping Avenue) – 4.4 miles
  • 12th Street East (Main Street to Jackson Avenue) – 4.2 miles
  • UMKC (Pershing to 51st) – 4.1 miles
  • 18th Street East (Main Street to Benton Boulevard) – 1.8 miles
  • Southwest Boulevard (Main Street to State Line Road) – 3.0 miles
  • 12th Street West (Main Street to Genessee Street) – 1.4 miles
  • North Kansas City (3rd Street to NE 32nd Avenue) – 3.1 miles

Of course, all expansion is subject to additional funding. Got a favorite one? Let’s hear about it in comments.

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Streetcar election, engineering continue

Kansas City wasn’t a winner in the ultra-competitive TIGER grant program, yet the streetcar continues with plenty of political backing. The mail-in election addressing 75% of the project cost wraps July 31; early returns are positive, with half of eligible voters already returning ballots.

Only one of the seven streetcar projects that applied for TIGER actually won: Fort Lauderdale (press release). They applied once before and were denied. This time, all of their outstanding pieces were in place (local and state funding).

Fortunately, many options exist for closing Kansas City’s streetcar funding gap (in no particular order):

Value engineering: Basically trimming scope while providing the same basic service. An entire block has already been eliminated from the route (see above photo). The city could also save money ordering expensive components (vehicles, rail) by teaming up with another city, perhaps even Fort Lauderdale (they also plan to launch in 2015).

Design/Build: The city could (and probably will) hire one vendor to design and build the streetcar line in one contract. This delivery method was used for the new Bond Bridge and is increasingly common as cities and states look to save money on expensive capital projects.

Reduced lending costs: Since TDD assessments will only raise $10 million annually, construction costs will be financed with city-backed bonds. The life of those bonds could range from 10 to 25 years, meaning lots of interest. The lower the interest rate, the lower the overall cost. Rates are very low now — lower than what the baseline budget assumes — but no one can predict what rates will be when bonds are sold before construction starts. Regardless, Missouri’s state infrastructure bank (PDF) is another option that could reduce interest rates to what the market can provide.

Other Federal transit funding: The Small Starts program is the most obvious, since that’s where transit projects under $250 million typically go first; both of our MAX routes were funded through Small Starts. The city is also seeking funds from the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) — both administered through MARC.

Crowd-funding: Crossroads start-up Neighborly is launching, which will allow anyone in the world to donate as little as $1 directly to the project (in exchange for perks, which start at the $10 level). While it might not raise $25 million, every dollar raised through Neighborly avoids lending costs that contribute significantly to the overall price tag. [Disclosure: I serve on Neighborly's advisory board.]

Jackson County: A 1-cent countywide transit sales tax is being eyed for November. County officials have shown interest in making sure the streetcar is completely funded, since their regional rail plans rely on the streetcar to distribute riders to the Central Business District.

PIAC: The streetcar is on next year’s PIAC wish list, which could net another million or two from existing city infrastructure funds (as it did in 2012).

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County’s transit plan becomes clearer

Last week saw a third set of open houses to narrow alternatives for two transit corridors being studied in Jackson County — East (I-70) and Southeast (Rock Island/MO-350). There isn’t a lot of good news for fans of the original Sanders plan, but there are still some very real opportunities.

First, the bad news: A 1% countywide sales tax only generates $80 million annually. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t much when you’ve got two $500 million rail lines you want to build and operate. Selecting alternatives close to the original Sanders plan leaves nothing for connecting buses (polling indicates this is necessary) or any significant operating budget (absolutely necessary). The tough decision ahead is to pick one corridor to build rail, or just go “all in” with buses.

Pick one corridor that scores best with the Feds and voters. That corridor is probably Rock Island.

Four alternatives remain for Rock Island (see corresponding line colors on above photo):

  • Bus Rapid Transit (similar to MAX) from Lee’s Summit, continuing along Linwood Boulevard and US-71 (purple line)
  • DMUs on existing tracks terminating in the River Market via land adjacent to Union Pacific Railroad’s Neff Yard (orange line)
  • Enhanced Streetcar on new tracks from downtown Raytown, running along Linwood to Main, then sharing tracks with downtown streetcar (blue line)
  • Express Buses running on MO-350 to I-435, then I-70 to 10th & Main (green line)

Of the four, the Enhanced Streetcar — defined as a modern streetcar vehicle that makes fewer stops once it leaves denser urban areas — would be a boon for the city and the county. Most Jackson County voters live in Kansas City; any plan that skips most of Kansas City might be at risk with urban voters. Linwood is denser than most suburban areas these lines would serve, which improves our chances for Federal funding. This alternative also has the strongest economic development potential and would help extend the streetcar line south to the Plaza/UMKC.

Voters also want rail and have been prepped for a plan that includes it, as well as service to Truman Sports Complex and Union Station (the revised DMU option for Rock Island would bypass Union Station). Focusing on Rock Island also preserves that corridor for an extension of the Katy Trail into downtown KC, an absolute necessity for any sales tax plan. While some well-heeled Lee’s Summit residents are opposed to anything resembling a train, none of them are opposed to a bike trail.

As for the I-70 corridor, choosing any rail option on the Southeast line pretty much excludes rail for I-70. Since the remaining I-70 rail option (DMU) now skips Truman Sports Complex, Union Station, and the Central Business District, it would likely not score well with the Feds or voters… leaving us with express buses to build ridership and serve more communities directly.

If you missed the open houses, please leave a comment online.


Judge advances streetcar district

Judge Charles Atwell today issued his judgement [PDF] on the Transportation Development District the City sought to fund construction and operation of the 2-mile downtown streetcar.

The major question was whether the various assessments — on commercial, residential, and municipal property; a sales tax; and a additional assessment on commercial surface lots — presented an “undue burden” on any property owner. The judge ruled that while the levies would be a burden, no one is being singled out and the rates aren’t “disproportionate to that of other property owners.”

The judge heard testimony at a public hearing on April 17 (see photo above) and allowed the petitioners to make their legal case on April 18 (I was a supporting petitioner). Three commercial property owners showed up to oppose. Supporters outnumbered them, and even a few supporting commercial property owners were on hand to level things out. Deliberation was expected to take between one and two weeks.

Today’s ruling immediately starts a mail-in election (ballots may also be hand-delivered to the court):

  • Monday, April 30 (8 a.m.) - Ballot requests begin
  • Tuesday, May 22 (5 p.m.) - Ballot requests end
  • Monday, June 19 – Ballots mailed to voters
  • Tuesday, July 31 (5 p.m.) – Ballots due

You must be registered to vote at an address inside the TDD boundary at the time you request a ballot. Check your registration status here.

Of course, we will have our answer on the TIGER grant application by the time this is all over. Not receiving that grant doesn’t end the project, but just delays it beyond the current 2015 target.

UPDATE: The application to request a ballot has been posted at The public notice explaining the process is available here.


Paying for our streetcar

Now that the $25 million Federal funding application has been submitted for the downtown streetcar, it’s time to recap how we’ll pay for the $76 million remainder — via a Transportation Development District.

Bear with us, because this can get pretty wonky.

First, some background. The TDD is an economic development tool defined by Missouri statute. The law’s original intent was to afford voters an opportunity to organize and fund transportation improvements themselves using a sales tax or special assessment. In practice, most TDD’s in Missouri are drawn around strip malls and highway interchanges, thus allowing only property owners to form and set levies. Regardless of who forms a TDD, the main milestone is for a county judge to rule a TDD petition lawful. Once that requirement has been met, two votes occur within the district — formation and levies. Kansas City’s day in Jackson County court is April 17*.

Second, localized funding has been used heavily in streetcar projects, mostly due to lack of Federal support. Portland and Seattle have projects up and running that were also financed by special districts; others under construction have taken the same approach. The thinking is that the investment in a given corridor benefits those in that corridor the most; why not give them the opportunity to make the investment the City cannot afford to make?

We should note that the City ponied up $2.5 million for engineering, and will be one of the single largest contributors to the TDD (only DST’s reported annual contribution is higher).

Finally, we have the current situation with our streetcar. Once a judge rules that Kansas City’s TDD petition (#1216-CV02419) is lawful, voters will decide — like they decide many taxes and levies that property owners don’t get to vote on — with a simple majority of ballots cast.

TDDs exist in Kansas City and all over the state. Even the St. Louis Loop Trolley is using a TDD, as does the Plaza to pay for your “free” parking garages (if you consider a 1% sales tax premium “free”, even for those who walk or take transit there). There is nothing unconstitutional about voters determining the level of taxation within any municipal boundary. Community Improvement Districts — an economic development tool that can also levy assessments on property – are widely used throughout Kansas City to provide better services than the City can provide (security, litter removal, mitigating panhandlers). The TDD is no different, other than being limited to transportation uses. Downtown residents want a streetcar and this is the quickest, most effective way to build it. Period.

* The April 17 TDD hearing is for public comment. The actual legal decision will occur the next day and is not open for public comment, although the public can attend. We’ll bring you live updates from both on Twitter @kclightrail. To join the effort, like this page:

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