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Kansas City Streetcar Authority Says Federal Funding Denial Won't Slow Expansion

A rendering shows a streetcar bound for UMKC leaving downtown on Main Street.

A planned extension of Kansas City's streetcar line from downtown to the University of Missouri-Kansas City failed to make it into the new federal budget proposal, a setback streetcar officials hope to overcome next year.

The Federal Transit Administration's budget recommendation for the 2020 fiscal year did not include $151.6 million being sought by the Kansas City Streetcar Authority to help fund approximately half the cost of the $316.6 million project.

"The Kansas City Streetcar project is in only the first phase — project development — of the (Capital Investment Grant) program’s multi-step, multi-year process," an FTA spokesperson said Thursday.

"Until it completes remaining steps in the process, it is not yet ready for consideration for a funding allocation."

Streetcar officials knew their funding application was a long shot this year because the project has not completed its engineering phase. Still, they were hopeful after FTA staff gave their funding application a favorable recommendation in late March.

"It's not going to stop us," says Donna Mandelbaum, the Streetcar Authority's spokeswoman. "It's a bump in the road and we still have a long ways to go."

Mandelbaum says the authority learned Wednesday via social media that the Kansas City project had been passed over in this year's FTA budget proposal.

While Congress could add projects to the final FY 2020 budget, Mandelbaum was doubtful Kansas City would receive such a late nod.

"Even though our (FTA) ratings were good, we're only in the project development phase," she said. "The majority of projects they like to see receive funding are in the engineering phase."

Mandelbaum said the streetcar extension project could still achieve its revised timetable of being operational by 2024 if it receives funding in the FY 2021 budget.

Earlier projections called for the extended line to be running by 2023.

The planned 3.5-mile extension of the streetcar line along Main Streetfrom downtown to UMKC is considered a vital step toward realizing the system's full potential.

The 2.2-mile downtown line, which runs along Main between Union Station and the River Market, opened in May 2016 and surpassed 6 million riders in late March.

The estimated cost of the entire streetcar extension project is $316.6 million with roughly the other half of the funding coming from a local transportation development district already approved by voters living within its boundaries along the route.

The FTA's decision not to include the Kansas City project in its budget recommendation adds more importance to begin engineering work along the route.

"We are still proceeding with this project as we have been, and our goal is to get into the engineering phase by the end of this year," Mandelbaum says.

"Our schedule called for federal funding by 2021. We'll reapply and keep moving forward."

While it wants to start engineering work, the Streetcar Authority still be must find funding and select a firm to do that work. Mandelbaum did not have an estimated cost of the engineering study.

The FTA's recommended Capital Investment Grants budget for FY 2020 totals $1.36 billion for 16 new and existing transit projects. The new projects receiving funding were all for bus rapid transit projects in Jacksonville, Florida; Reno, Nevada; Albany, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Spokane, Washington.

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.
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