Archive for the 'Streetcar' Category

Judge’s ruling confirms benefits of streetcars

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Circuit Court Judge Marco Roldan ruled last week that the proposed Transportation Development District to fund three streetcar expansions (Main Street, Independence Avenue, and Linwood Boulevard) and one MAX expansion (Prospect Avenue) is legal and placed it immediately on the August 2014 ballot. [Map of TDD boundary]

Kansas City and the Port Authority filed the TDD petition in January, based on recommendations from the feasibility study.

If voters inside the TDD approve its formation on Aug. 5, a subsequent election will occur on Nov. 4 to approve the sales tax and special assessments. It’s important to note:

  • The 1% sales tax applies within the entire district (some sales are exempt)
  • The special assessments apply only to properties within 1/3-mile of streetcar tracks actually constructed
  • No taxes or assessments will be collected until there is a minimum 50% federal match

Streetcars — and fixed rail, in general — increase the value of adjacent real estate, which is the legal basis for the special assessment (not whether or not you will use it). The city’s legal team provided evidence of this during the TDD proceedings, and Judge Roldan concurred in his ruling.

The argument for the sales tax is the same as any citywide election. Does the presence of streetcar — and the resulting increase in transit ridership and economic development — benefit the city as a whole? The answer is yes.

In short, the argument over the benefits of streetcars is over. The question for KC voters now is: Where to expand?

Starter line update

The City issued a Notice to Proceed for full starter line construction on May 15. An official groundbreaking is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 22 at south of Truman Road on Main Street. Water and sewer work will begin first — overseen by KC Streetcar Constructors — then follow with track construction.

On April 25, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority announced their recommendation to hire Herzog Transit Services, Inc., of St. Joseph, to operate and maintain the starter line — pending city approval and contract negotiations. Selection of the operator reflects the final partner required to be in place to start operating in 2015.

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Consultants finalize Phase 2 streetcar plan


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 for the latest information.

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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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Summer of Streetcar


Summer is here and the Phase 1 streetcar project will begin construction soon. Here’s what to expect for the remainder of 2013:

1. Vehicles. The city is in the final stages of selecting one of two modern streetcar vehicles — the CAF Urbos 3 (above) and the Siemens S70 Streetcar. Both are available through option purchases with other cities currently building streetcar lines (Cincinnati and Salt Lake City, respectively). Completed vehicles could arrive for testing in as little as 18 months.

2. Utility relocation. Public and private utilities will relocate entire lines, or just their access points, away from the streetcar tracks and new overhead wire. The final design for the track location is expected soon. Utility work will likely generate the longest disruption along the route since a few spots — mostly in the River Market and Crossroads — haven’t been fully unearthed in a century. The sequence of work will be determined by the Construction Manager (a contract to be awarded in July) in collaboration with the utilities. Contractors are required to maintain access to businesses throughout this phase.

3. Main Street bridge over I-670. While not required for, or funded by, the streetcar project the city has chosen to replace the functionally obsolete Main Street bridge over I-670 before the streetcar tracks are installed. In addition to a new design, the bridge will be raised to meet the Federal Highway Administration’s required height clearances. It will be completely closed for about six weeks during construction.

4. Maintenance Facility. Once the final Columbus Park site has been selected and purchased, the city will finalize the facility design and break ground. Often referred to as the VMF, this is where Kansas City’s four modern streetcars will be stored and maintained. As with all new city structures, the maintenance facility will be certified LEED Gold or above.

The city has also applied for a $20 million federal grant. Competition is again fierce, but with local funding now secured the project is in a better spot than last year. Bonds to finance the remaining construction activities will be sold once the legal challenge to the funding district is settled (oral arguments will be heard July 16).

Phase 2 is also advancing rapidly. Seven corridors will be studied south of the river starting this month, and an extension north across the Missouri River will be jointly studied by MARC, Kansas City, and North Kansas City starting in July.


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Top 12 transit stories of 2012


Yours truly and Streetcar Neighbors co-founder Matt Staub were interviewed by KSHB at the final streetcar election party. Photo by Matt Kleinmann. Full video coverage by Transit Action Network.


2012 was absolutely a banner year for transit news in Kansas City. Here are the stories that captured the most attention:

1. Downtown streetcar fully funded. Two elections — one to form the special streetcar district, then a follow-up to actually fund the project — passed with strong majorities. Federal funding, initially expected in the form of a $25 million TIGER IV grant, instead came from two locally-programmed federal sources. Toss in a few cost-cutting measures and you have Kansas City’s first fully-funded rail transit project. Construction starts in 2013, with Phase 2 extensions already being discussed.

2. Bike share launch. Twelve stations, 90 bikes… modest, yes, but beating New York, LA, Chicago, and even Portland to the punch. One might question launching in the middle of a heat wave with little infrastructure to encourage cycling, but new non-profit Kansas City B-Cycle could not be deterred. One of the quickest and highest visibility projects to hit downtown in years, just in time for an Bronze designation as a Bike Friendly Community. Phase 2 expansion to Midtown and the Plaza starts in 2013.

3. Jackson County draft transit plans released. Self-propelled diesel vehicles running along I-70 to Oak Grove using existing tracks, with a second phase running along the Rock Island right-of-way to Lee’s Summit — the dream of County Executive Mike Sanders finally realized after years of talking to anyone who’d listen. Both corridors wrapped up most of their Alternatives Analysis work in 2012. A countywide sales tax vote on a comprehensive transit plan — that includes the two rail lines, more bus service, and a Katy Trail extension into the city — is expected in 2013.

4. KCATA service changes. Major changes to 54 bus routes, the first significant makeover of KCATA’s network in decades, were introduced in phases starting in 2012. Noteworthy changes include improved Main and Troost MAX frequency, service to Zona Rosa, and elimination/consolidation of underperforming routes. Improved service to KCI and a reconfiguring of bus travel through downtown are on tap for 2013.

5. Making the streetcar free to ride. The freshly-formed Kansas City Streetcar Authority voted in September to eliminate fares, at least initially, on the downtown streetcar. Initial ridership estimates assumed most riders would pay, so this change all but assures the line’s success. Turns out it costs money to collect money…

6. Transit education campaign. Commercials and billboards began educating Jackson County residents about the benefits of public transit over the summer. Funded collectively by the cities within Jackson County and administered by the Regional Transit Alliance, the goal is to help residents see how “transit works for us,” even if they don’t plan on using it.

7. Keeping Clay Chastain off the ballot. Chastain has again garnered enough signatures to get on the ballot with an even larger transit plan and the city has rightfully stood up and refused to put it on the ballot… so, of course, he sued, lost, and has appealed. That appellate court ruling is due in the coming weeks.

8. Transit ridership up across the metro. Boosted by a new student pass program (first UMKC, now Rockhurst) and an improving economy, ridership increased over 2011 on KCATA (5.50%) and The JO (8%) even as budgets were tightened and fewer services were offered.

9. The JO service cuts. Expiring/reduced federal funding, reduced state funding, and lack of political will all contributed to another year of service reductions and route eliminations for Johnson County Transit. While pro-transit County Commissioner Steve Klika did win in November, prospects aren’t good for The JO sticking around in its current form beyond 2014. Cuts takes effect in January.

10. October bus driver attacks. Two separate incidents, one of which went viral, were a reminder that bus drivers should be respected and not physically assaulted. Suspects in both crimes have been apprehended thanks to a quick public response.

11. TIGER I grant improvements. $10 million each for North Oak, Metcalf, and State Avenue, awarded in 2010. Service was improved on North Oak as part of KCATA’s recent changes, but challenges are ahead for Unified Government (State) and Johnson County (Metcalf) to uncover enough funding (and place-making) to make their services attractive to more than just the transit dependent. Ever stood around at 110th & Metcalf?

12. Independence breaks off from KCATA. While getting a lower price from vendor First Transit (who also operates The JO, which also split from KCATA in the 90s), the City of Independence has had a few startup issues with their local services. Hopefully 2013 will see improved interoperability with KCATA’s remaining Independence routes.


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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The second (and final) downtown streetcar election

The second (and final) downtown streetcar election has been scheduled and will consist of two questions (one for the sales tax, one for the special assessments on residential, commercial, and municipal property — vote yes for both, as both must pass for either to take affect!). The judge’s ruling is here.

  • 8/31-10/2 – Ballot request period (application now available!)
  • 10/30 – Ballots mailed
  • 12/11 – Ballots due

The TDD Board consists of Mayor Sly James, Port Authority Chair George Wolf, residential property owner Matthew Staub, and commercial property owner Jeff Krum (who is also CFO of Boulevard Brewing Company). Mayor James is Chair and Staub is Vice Chair of the TDD Board.

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority was formed on Aug. 3 and consists of downtown stakeholders and city appointees. It is charged with operating the streetcar and consulting on remaining engineering and construction activities with Public Works. The Authority has yet to meet or elect officers.

As soon as this second election is final, the city can issue bonds and start construction. Operation is still planned for 2015.

Separately, the countywide sales tax for transit has been moved out to 2013.

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