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Consultants finalize Phase 2 streetcar plan

tdd

The Phase 2 streetcar consultant team published their draft final recommendations today. Key points to remember:

  • All at once. Streetcar on Main Street, Linwood Boulevard, and Independence Avenue — plus upgrading Prospect bus service to MAX — would be funded and constructed as a single project.
  • You get to vote. Council’s expected approval this week just puts the election on the calendar if courts approve. Voters within the revised Transportation Development District still get TWO chances to chime in at the voting booth — in August to form the district and in November to approve the sales tax and special assessments.
  • You don’t pay now. No sales tax or special assessment will be collected until a minimum 50% federal match is secured. This project could be the largest single federal grant — and the biggest investment east of Troost — in Kansas City history.
  • One TDD. The new TDD funds all of the above and replaces the downtown streetcar TDD. The new TDD map — after the elimination of Brookside and Waldo — is here.
  • Existing bus riders unaffected. If you ride a bus that runs in one of these corridors, you won’t be forced to transfer to streetcar. No reduction in bus funding and no drivers will lose their jobs due to streetcar expansion.
  • Bike enhancements still on the table. It’s up to advocates to make the case to those who live along the routes to support bike lanes and other amenities.

Meanwhile, Phase 1 official construction should start any day with a big rail shipment due to arrive in April. See kcstreetcar.org for the latest information.

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Engineering reveals streetcar details

The downtown streetcar project team is in the process of Advanced Conceptual Engineering (the next Federally-required step before construction begins) and has confirmed some technical details:

- Yes, there will be actual steel rails in the street (believe it or not, we get this question a lot). There will also be catenary lines to power the streetcar vehicles (and, thus, six transformer stations along the route).

- Stations will be at even-numbered streets along the curb, on the far side of each intersection, except at Union Station. That station will be center-island with a new, signalized mid-block crossing to connect with the existing Link skywalk. A far side installation will allow vehicles to make right turns unimpeded by a stopped streetcar.

- Main Street would be reconfigured with a two-way left turn lane (see above image). Streetcars would operate in the traffic lane, while on-street parking would be retained. Curbs may be extended with bump-outs at station stops (similar to some streets today in the Power & Light and Library districts). Currently, Main is a hodgepodge of shifting and peak-only bus lanes that seems to change every two blocks.

- Baltimore, Walnut, and Charlotte will be converted to two-way traffic, which will reduce demand on Main Street. Existing bus routes will move to Grand for the same purpose. Bike lanes are still on the drawing board for Grand, so that will also be their main thoroughfare (as well as Charlotte, which will connect to the Heart of America bike lane). Main will become “the streetcar street”, while Broadway, Grand, and Oak will be major through streets for vehicle traffic — all three have plenty of existing capacity.

- River Market service may consist of a counter-clockwise loop. From Delaware, streetcars would turn east on 5th, north on Grand, west on 3rd, then south again on Delaware back towards the Central Business District. There will be three stops in the River Market (5th & Delaware, 5th & Walnut, 3rd & Grand).

- Maintenance sites have been narrowed to three.

- Environmental assessment is about to begin; the City expects a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI) by September.

- Vehicles have not been ordered. This item has the longest lead time, but funding needs to be in place first. If TIGER grant and TDD elections are successful, current schedule is to begin operations by April 30, 2015. Other cities have pooled equipment orders to speed delivery. Dozens of cities are planning modern streetcars, so pooling is a possibility.

All of the above is preliminary, but looking more and more like reality. Major questions still remain with utilities. The good news is that much of the water and sewer infrastructure needs replaced anyway to comply with the Clean Water Act.
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Jackson County transit plan still fluid

We thought Jackson County might have made a recommendation for mode and alignment this week, but we were wrong. A third round of public meetings was on the calendar for March, but have moved to April. Don’t expect a final answer until May or June.

The I-70 and Rock Island (MO-350) “Commuter Corridors” have been under analysis as long as the downtown streetcar, but with longer distances and a “common segment” dilemma there is still no indication which direction the final plan will take. One thing’s for sure: it will not be the exact plan that County Executive Mike Sanders proposed… and that’s okay.

At Wednesday’s stakeholder meeting, consultants eliminated the option of running diesel multiple units (DMUs) on Truman Road between Union Station and the Truman Sports Complex (the “common segment” of the original plan). The cost and impacts are too high for that route/mode combination (see above photo). The Terminal Railway trench that runs behind Union Station is also out. DMUs are still in play, but would terminate in the River Market via Kansas City Southern‘s existing tracks. The original Sanders plan [PDF] had DMUs running on Truman Road to connect to the tracks behind Union Station.

Other mode options are enhanced streetcar, bus rapid transit, express bus, or some combination of the four. Enhanced streetcar is defined as a modern streetcar that makes fewer stops and perhaps runs in dedicated right-of-way. An example in this case would be running streetcars down Main Street to Linwood Boulevard, then all the way east to the Sports Complex, where they could run (up to 55 mph) in the Rock Island corridor without mixing with traffic.

With the availability of hybrid streetcars like the demo at Union Station last summer, there is no longer a need to run catenary and poles along an entire route. The hybrids simply charge at station stops and can go as far as five miles before recharging. We always prefer electric over diesel. If both the Jackson County and downtown plans chose the same vehicle type, riders would have a single-seat ride into the region’s top employment and entertainment destination.

While the consultants and politicians figure out the final plan — which will include more than just two rail lines — an education campaign is due to begin. Jackson County cities have ponied up cash to fund that effort through the Regional Transit Alliance using talent who’ve actually done successful transit campaigns before (versus just hiring the same tired locals). Expect ads to look and sound something like this or this. Early polling indicates strong support for a comprehensive transit plan and a 1-cent sales tax.

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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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Streetcar proposal submitted to USDOT

The regional TIGER application has been submitted to the US Department of Transportation, and it includes a $6 million request for design and engineering of a downtown streetcar. There are lots of other elements (bike/ped, freight rail, Green Impact Zone) in the plan, but the streetcar and BRT portions have been posted on the KCATA website.

We’ll be poring over the application in the coming days to bring you an overview and our analysis.

As a reminder, the TIGER grant program is unique to the stimulus program and is competitive and discretionary. MARC’s proposal is going up against MoDOT (for I-70 truck lanes, natch), St. Louis (leave a comment if you know what they’re applying for), Columbia (ditto) and any other entity in the state that can receive federal transportation funds.

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The case for a downtown streetcar

Streetcar

On July 16, KCATA proposed a different kind of light rail for Kansas City: a 2.5-mile modern streetcar line serving as a downtown circulator between River Market and Crown Center.

First, some basic facts about the proposal:

  • Prior light rail studies indicate the “RCP” (River Market > Crown Center > Plaza) corridor is the best opportunity to reintroduce fixed rail transit in KC.
  • Capital costs (approximately $150 million) could be funded 100% by a TIGER grant program that’s part of the ARRA.
  • Operating costs (approximately $2-2.5 million annually) could come from new revenue sources adjacent to the route that would not require a city-wide public vote, likely through approval of a Transportation Development District.
  • The Greater Downtown Area Plan, while still in progress, recommends reintroduction of a downtown urban circulator.
  • The line would operate in mixed traffic, remove no on-street parking, and require no property acquisition for right of way.
  • The Downtown Council has indicated they may support the proposal.
  • Modern streetcar vehicles are now made in the US.
  • The proposal is not a complete rehash of the 14-mile plan voters rejected in November 2008, which was designed to bring commuters to downtown from the north, south, and east (although consultants noted earlier this year that only the RCP portion would have had a good shot at federal funding through existing programs).

Now, the tough part:

  • TIGER grants are competitive and are capped at $300 million per request and for each state; St. Louis and others will compete for all or part of that amount.
  • Every city, transit agency, railroad, MPO, and state DOT in the US can apply with separate proposals for the $1.5 billion that’s available nationwide.
  • Other Kansas City proposals from MARC, the Port Authority, Public Works (one for bike/ped/trails, another for roads), and the Kansas City Terminal Railway have been presented.
  • Funding will be granted at the complete discretion of the US DOT.

The dilemma for city leaders now is how best to package this or a combination of proposals to compete by the Sept. 15 deadline (insanely short by typical federal standards). US DOT has provided criteria and certainly indicated highways won’t be the top priority (sorry, MoDOT).

KCATA did not indicate exactly how, or if, the current MAX line would be affected. It’s important to note, however, that the MAX takes an overly-complicated route through downtown and could certainly benefit from a good straightening out.

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KCATA's stimulus streetcar proposal

KCATA presented a modern streetcar proposal at yesterday’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee meeting. T&I is reviewing applications for $1.5 billion in competitive TIGER grants that are part of the federal stimulus package (yes, that’s $1.5 billion for the entire US). It’s conceivable that the entire capital cost could be covered by TIGER funds. The criteria for requests are fuzzy, and there is no formula distribution as with other transportation dollars.

What’s a modern streetcar? Think modern light rail vehicle running in mixed traffic. Why is it better than the MAX? Take a walk along the MAX corridor and see how it’s improved since 2005. Rail lines spur economic development, period.

See the Star’s coverage here and the PowerPoint presentation here.

On a side note: Seattle’s first light rail line opens this weekend. Track progress at Seattle Transit Blog.

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KCATA adds RCP line to stimulus list

KCATA has submitted a River-Crown-Plaza “light rail/streetcar” line as part of its projects to be considered for the economic stimulus package that’s being prepared by the new Congress. Price tag: $400 million.

Such a route would represent about 5 of the 14 miles still being studied as part of the failed light rail ballot question from November. The northernmost segments — including a new river crossing and I-29 interchange — were by far the most expensive on the entire route and would presumably not be included.

We must say that we’re totally surprised (and pleased!) to see this, but aren’t very optimistic for its chances. While the public has not been privy to all of the details of how the stimulus money will be distributed to cities or states, we do know the total will only be around $800 billion, with a subset of that to be used for infrastructure spending. Divide whatever that amount is by 50 states and subtract the state-funded projects and you may end up with a few hundred million to be split between all of the cities in Missouri combined.

President-elect Obama’s speech today highlighting the “green” aspects of the stimulus do give us hope that states may be asked to focus more on projects that have an environmental benefit. We’ll need to see it to believe it.

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All the answers were in today’s Star. Still got questions? If not, please check out this great article in today’s Washington Post about the rebirth of the American City through the lens of the presidential campaign (it’s kinda transit-related, we promise).

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