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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 http://www.16thcircuit.org/streetcar/. The public notice explaining the process is available here.

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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: https://www.facebook.com/streetcarneighbors

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TIGER application submitted

The City submitted the TIGER Grant Application for the downtown streetcar project earlier this week and has posted the document online.

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Downtown streetcar update

 

It was a big week for the Downtown Streetcar project. Here’s a brief recap:

- The City Council unanimously passed three rezoning ordinances that will make transit-oriented development easier, as well as improve the likelihood of receiving Federal funding. The biggest change involved elimination of suburban-style parking minimums in the Crossroads. To appease some property owners, the changes don’t take effect until May 1, 2013 — about the time the streetcar would start construction on the current timeline. Per Councilman Jim Glover, it’s one of the largest rezoning efforts the City has attempted.

- “Downtown Streetcar Supporter” window clings (see above) began appearing in downtown shops and restaurants.

- Two firms — Brightergy and RareWire – announced plans to relocate to buildings right on the route.

- The $25 million TIGER application is in process and will be submitted on Friday, March 16.

- A public hearing for the Transportation Development District has been set for Tuesday, April 17 at the Jackson County Courthouse.

- If the judge rules the TDD can proceed, an election to form the district will be held Tuesday, June 5. A second election will be held to set the levies.

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Final streetcar report recap

A draft version of the final downtown streetcar report has been posted here. The project is now ready to move into engineering. Here are some of the report’s highlights:

  • Modern streetcar, electrified by overhead catenary wires and running primarily on Main Street, between River Market and Crown Center/Union Station (2.11 miles).
  • Other than Main Street, vehicles will travel on Grand between 3rd and 5th; on 5th between Grand and Delaware; on Delaware between 5th and 7th (where Delaware turns into Main), then on Pershing between Main and Grand.
  • Estimated operating hours are 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Three vehicles would provide peak headways of 11 minutes (with 22 minute headways on Sundays and after 9 p.m. on weekdays).
  • Vehicles will operate in median lanes from Pershing Road to 14th Street, then run in curb lanes between 14th and 9th streets (eliminating the dysfunctional on-street parking that co-exists with a bus lane).
  • Construction will take an estimated two years after design and engineering are complete; majority of disruption will occur within the right-of-way and not for the entire two year period along the entire route.
  • No property acquisition required for the route, but parcels may be acquired for a maintenance facility.
  • Communication utilities (AT&T/Verizon) would be most impacted by construction; Main Street has very few water, sanitary sewer, or gas lines.
  • Capital construction cost is $101 million. Annual operating cost is $3.2 million.
  • Funding will be a mix of fares, $2 million in City funds (mix of PIAC and TIF), up to $25 million in Federal grants, and $73 million generated by a new Transportation Development District over 25 years. No money will be diverted from existing KCATA operating funds.
  • Daily ridership forecast for opening year (2015) is 2,896. By 2035, daily ridership is estimated at 6,023. By comparison, Main Street MAX carries around 4,000 riders between River Market and Waldo.
  • Acres of parking within 1/4 mile of proposed stations: 105 (surface) and 53.2 (structured). Surface lots are strong candidates for redevelopment.
  • Noise and vibration are similar to existing city buses.
  • Connections to other transit services will be available at 3rd & Grand (city bus, Megabus), 10th & Main (city bus), and Union Station (Amtrak, regional rail).

Twelve stations are recommended for the following locations (about every 2 blocks):

  • 3rd & Grand (northern terminus and existing KCATA park & ride)
  • City Market (on 5th at Walnut)
  • River Market West (on Delaware at Independence Avenue)
  • North Loop (on Main at 8th)
  • Financial District (on Main at 10th, adjacent to the KCATA transit center)
  • Convention Center/Power & Light (on Main at 14th)
  • Kauffman Center (on Main at 16th)
  • Crossroads (on Main at 18th)
  • Freighthouse (on Main at 20th)
  • Union Station (on Main, opposite the station)
  • Crown Center (southern terminus, on Pershing at Grand in dedicated lanes)

The Transportation Development District will generate revenue from the following downtown sources:

  • Special Assessment on Real Property Assessed Value (including Chapter 353 abated properties)
  • 1% in-district Sales Tax (in addition to a TDD sales tax that covers the Power & Light District)
  • Special Assessments on Commercial Surface Parking
  • Fares ($1 per ride)
  • Advertising revenue

TDDs can issue bonds and are managed by an elected Board of registered voters within the district boundaries will be overseen by a four-person Board composed of City officials and mayoral appointees [Ed Note: Corrected on 1/10/12 at the request of the City of Kansas City; there are multiple ways to form a TDD Board, per statute.]. The proposed boundaries are the Missouri River on the north, 27th Street on the south, the centerline of Broadway on the west, and the centerline of Locust Street on the east. This would include most of the River Market, downtown loop, and Crossroads, but not Quality Hill or Columbus Park. Major retail hubs such as the City Market, Power & Light District, and Crown Center would all be included. An in-district election to form the TDD will occur early in 2012.

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Modern streetcar update

The modern streetcar project is progressing rapidly. With a federal grant to complete a new study for a dramatically smaller corridor in place, the first public meeting will be held on June 21. Check the SmartMoves website for the exact time and location. UPDATE: The meeting has been confirmed!

Major issues for the 2-mile route are street selection and funding.

The 2008 light rail plan basically narrowed the choices through downtown to Main or Grand. With Grand mired in an aggressive Complete Streets effort that came out of nowhere, it appears that Main Street is emerging as a consensus choice (mostly to avoid interference from Cordish-induced street closures and the “parade” argument). While light rail would have taken travel lanes away, the modern streetcar will share them… just like a bus. Opposition shouldn’t be as strong, knowing that the construction timeline will be shorter than a full-scale light rail project.

Funding is a bit more of a gray area. City staff and elected officials have repeatedly opposed attempting another city-wide vote. Yet, downtown support at the ballot box has been consistently strong, and most of the big boys in the loop realize that some sort of major transit investment is inevitable. Since there is no federal or state support for operating costs and KCATA has no wiggle room to add more services, that leaves localized funding. One way to generate revenue within the corridor is through a Transportation Development District, which requires only a petition of registered voters or property owners within a define boundary and a judge’s approval to form.

There is also a sense that City may step up to take the financial lead. A relatively small construction price tag, with perhaps the city owning the vehicles, could make issuing municipal bonds an option. That, of course, will add complexity to the convention hotel discussion that still plagues City Hall. With a strong credit rating but big debt load, will residents revolt if the City attempts both?

The list of cities actively planning new or expanded modern streetcar routes includes Oklahoma City, Washington, Portland, Dallas, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Charlotte, and Atlanta. All have received federal grants in the last two years to expedite efforts.

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MARC submits rail study application

Talk radio stalwart KMBZ reports that Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders the Mid-America Regional Council has submitted an application to the Federal Transit Administration to fund a formal study of his the rapid rail presentation. We’ll try to get a copy of the application and post it here.

UPDATE: MARC actually submitted the application. Download the Jackson County Regional Alternatives Analysis Application. Kansas City, KCATA, and Jackson County participated in developing the application.

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Bar "trolley" an affront to KC public transit

City Hall has kicked public transportation in the nuts, yet again.

Instead of providing additional funding to KCATA to extend service hours on the weekend — as is done in many other cities nationwide — the City Council has given $195,000 to a private operator to run a tourist “trolley” that duplicates existing transit services.

Good intentions aside, it shows how disconnected our elected officials are from the state of transit in KC — easy to do when driving from the attached garage at home to the underground garage at City Hall. This effort continues to propagate the myth that city buses are for poor people and that tourists and suburbanites should be coddled in faux streetcars — that go door-to-door. Several bus lines (MAX, #51-Broadway, and #57-South Oak) already connect Kansas City’s various entertainment districts, serve a larger area, and easily connect with other routes and park-and-rides… all with taxpayer dollars.

Officially, KCATA doesn’t see this is as competition. That is 100% wrong. City funds are scarce and KCATA’s funding continues to drop in every budget year, even though demand is growing. There’s a reason other cities aren’t doing this.

By the way, the “trolley” will cost you $15 to ride. Save yourself some change and buy a day pass on the MAX for $3. It stops at Waldo, Brookside, Plaza, Westport, Crossroads, Power & Light, and the River Market. Out past midnight? Take one of the many cabs right to your front door and avoid the drunken foolishness.

UPDATE: Here’s the Star’s version of the route map, compared to MAX.

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TIGER: Winners/losers, streetcar (not) in play?

While some media outlets thought otherwise, it’s not entirely clear after today’s TIGER announcement that the downtown streetcar is completely unfunded. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of math to deduce where the entire $50 million award will go. The full request [PDF] was $88.761 million.

In practical terms, the entire amount will go to MARC to be distributed to various agencies who handle the Green Impact Zone of Missouri (GIZMO) and transportation services in the metro — the latter being handled exclusively by KCATA, The JO, and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

Of the $50 million awarded to KC today, however, GIZMO and bus corridor improvements cover only about $48 million. The Bike KC, Front Street interchange, and West Bottoms freight rail projects were not specifically mentioned, which leaves the remaining transit project — design and engineering for the downtown modern streetcar — up in the air. We have yet to hear from KCATA about their take on today’s event.

Streetcar awards were confirmed for Dallas, Tucson, New Orleans, and Portland. Streetcar requests that didn’t make the cut were Cincinnati, Boise, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta.

Another smaller round of streetcar-specific funding using unspent transit dollars — not stimulus — will be awarded later this year; Kansas City is unable to apply for that program because it has not delivered the local match required.

As for the other nationwide winners and losers in today’s announcement [PDF], Streetsblog, The Infrastructurist, and The Transport Politic have excellent posts that cover the big picture.

Hope you enjoyed our live tweets. We also finally figured out video (see above), and MARC has plenty of pictures.

UPDATE: KCATA confirmed Thursday morning that the streetcar element was not funded. Their site has been updated with details about the bus corridor improvements.

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BREAKING: Transportation Secretary LaHood in KC this week

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be in KC this week, as well as Los Angeles and Tucson. All three cities had downtown modern streetcar components in their TIGER grant applications. Grant winners were Congressionally mandated to be announced by Feb. 17.

It’s likely that the appearance location will relate to a part of the application, which could include the Green Impact Zone, the riverfront, or Union Station (which would be on the streetcar route and conveniently makes a great photo op).

UPDATE: Here’s an article detailing LaHood’s Thursday appearance in Tucson.
UPDATE 2: The White House has confirmed that LaHood will be in Kansas City tomorrow, along with stimulus-related appearances by other cabinet members. Still no official word on where the KC event will take place, but we’ve received unofficial word that it will be in the Green Impact Zone, not Union Station.
UPDATE 3: MARC has just confirmed the event will take place at 10:30 a.m. CST at the Green Impact Zone offices, 4600 Paseo. Mayor Mark Funkhouser and US Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver will also be present.

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