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Support lines up for streetcar & MAX expansion

Photo Jul 19, 2 17 24 PM

With just a few weeks left until voters decide on Question A – shall we organize a new Transportation Development District that would fund streetcar and MAX expansion? — organizations have been lining up to support the effort.

Media

Both the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Business Journal endorsed Question A on their editorial pages. Both have previously endorsed official light rail and bus plans.

Organizations

Mayor Sly James and the City Council, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, Center City Neighborhood Association, South Plaza Neighborhood Association, Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT), Downtown Council, Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association, Columbus Park Community Council, and the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance have all passed resolutions of support.

The above list contains neighborhood associations from each of the streetcar and MAX expansion corridors. City Council continues to vote unanimously on funding and policies related to streetcar.

Donors

Heavy Constructors, BNIM, Burns & McDonnell, Herzog Contracting Corp., HNTB, UMB Bank, Stacy & Witbeck, and Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences have all contributed to the Question A campaign.

The Heavy Constructors previously fought larger light rail plans, so their financial support for both streetcar districts is noteworthy. KCUMB’s main campus is on the Independence Avenue line.

State of Missouri

An approved Amendment 7 project list for the KC region includes $144 million in matching funds for Question A. In return, the sales tax within the TDD would be lowered so that no one pays more than an additional penny if both initiatives pass on August 5. This is the first time the State of Missouri has provided direct capital funding for any transit project. MARC and Mayor Sly James deserve recognition for keeping the region’s project list focused on transit (something MoDOT and Amendment 7′s sponsors did not want).

Election Day

Polls open at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, August 5, and close at 7 p.m. Question A will be at the bottom of the ballot and will only appear if you are registered to vote inside the TDD boundary.

Downtown

Meanwhile, Phase 1 construction continues with track installation resuming this month and a new Executive Director on board for the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, which is in charge of operating the system.

Downtown voters have a very good reason to approve the expansion TDD as they’ll get 8 miles of streetcar for the price of 2, since their assessments and sales tax rate won’t change.

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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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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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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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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 ourstreetcar.com, 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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How to vote for the streetcar

The City has chosen a mail-in election for the downtown streetcar. Since the Circuit Court is overseeing the formation of the Transportation Development district that will fund the streetcar, they are also handling the mail-in election.

Here’s how to participate:

  1. Print the ballot application from http://www.16thcircuit.org/streetcar/
  2. Print your voter registration status** from http://kceb.org (“Check Your Voter Status”)
  3. Send them back to the court (hand-deliver, mail, or fax) by 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 22. If mailing, allow enough time for delivery by May 22.

If you don’t request a ballot you cannot vote, just like absentee voting. You must live within the TDD boundary to apply for a ballot, since only those properties will pay the special assessments. The Downtown Neighborhood Association has a calculator for residents to determine their annual assessment.

Next steps:

  • June 1 - U.S. Department of Transportation will reveal if the streetcar has won all or part of $25 million TIGER grant request
  • June 19 – Circuit Court will mail ballots to those who requested them
  • July 31 – Completed ballots (vote YES for the streetcar) must be returned to the Court

This first vote is only to form the TDD and set maximum assessments. Final special assessments rates will be set at a second election later this year. The City is actively working to find additional funding sources to reduce the assessments, including the one that they will pay on all municipal property.

All 3,400 qualified voters (those registered who live within the TDD boundary) were mailed ballot applications by the streetcar campaign on May 8. The envelope contained a letter from Mayor Sly James explaining the project, a map of the TDD, and the official ballot application.

The entire TDD sits within Ward 1. That electoral ward voted over 60% in favor of the November 2008 light rail plan.

Another round of public meetings will be held May 15-17. Follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates, as well as the Streetcar Neighbors Facebook page.

** UPDATE! We’ve had reports that some registered voters aren’t showing up at http://kceb.org. If this happens to you, please call the Kansas City Election Board (816-842-4820) and have them email you that you are, in fact, registered. Print that email as proof and enclose it with your ballot application. Do NOT mail your application after Monday, May 21 since it must be RECEIVED by 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Please fax the application and your voter registration status to the number on the form or hand-deliver to the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City.

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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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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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