TransitKC

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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