A multimodal plan to extend the streetcar line to the riverfront, including a new concept to build a separate bicycle and pedestrian bridge next to the Grand Boulevard viaduct, continues to roll, but without help from Washington.
The KC Streetcar Authority’s application for $25 million for the riverfront extension was rejected recently by the Federal Transportation Agency (FTA), Executive Director Tom Gerend said. That leaves the task of building the approximately 1/2-mile line, and perhaps longer, in local hands.
“We need to look under every rock,” Gerend said, “but we have a coalition of the city, streetcar authority and Port KC and we believe there’s still a path moving forward. It’s a great project.”
In related news, Gerend said preliminary signals from federal officials on the more ambitious expansion of the streetcar line along Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, have been positive. The authority is applying for $151 million from Washington for that $316 million project.
“We’re continuing to work with our federal partners with the submission for grant dollars through the New Starts program,” he said. “We’re still waiting for the formal rating from the FTA, but we’ve gotten good signs from the initial look.”
The streetcar riverfront project is on a faster track and prospects are encouraging that local funding will be found. A year ago, Michael Collins, the former president and CEO of Port KC, said his agency would step in financially should federal funding be denied.
His successor, Jon Stephens, reaffirmed his agency’s commitment to the project as well as the possibility of extending it farther along the river, close to the Isle of Capri Casino.
“We believe the riverfront extension through Berkley Riverfront Park and hopefully terminating near the new Bond Bridge is vital for riverfront development and the future of the streetcar,” Stephen said. “In anticipation of the project not being awarded the BUILD grant, we’ve been working with the streetcar authority on a funding model for it. We are optimistic we’ll have an announcement on moving the project forward in early 2019.”
The plan to extend the streetcar from the River Market to Berkley Park would use the existing Grand Boulevard viaduct. Previous plans also called for the vehicle bridge to be adapted to create a separate lane for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Gerend said that idea has proven impractical and, instead, planners are considering building a separate, 12- to 14-foot wide bridge for biking and walking.
When the current Grand viaduct was built in the 1980s, a second parallel span was contemplated to the east. Gerend said three support piers were built in anticipation of that project.
“We could use the existing piers,” he said. “It’s still expensive but it would make costs more reasonable.”
Stephens said Port KC supports building a bridge dedicated to bicyclists and pedestrians.
“We’ve seen the critical importance of bike/ped access to the riverfront,” he said. “We anticipate significant residential growth plus Berkley has been the front yard for downtown residents. Having a robust connection is really important.”
As for the planned extension of the streetcar from downtown to UMKC, Gerend said his agency continues to do technical planning while it awaits word from Washington.
About $3 million was recently budgeted for further technical planning, $2 million from excess streetcar funds and $1 million from the KC Area Transportation Authority.
Gerend said crews will be surveying the Main Street route and public briefings are planned on its updated design.
“We’ll be doing a ton of work behind the scenes,” he said.
With that federal grant application, Gerend said FTA officials are comfortable with the cost estimates furnished for the project and there are ongoing discussions about its proposed timetable.
The earliest the extension to UMKC could be completed is late 2023.
“We’ve had no real hint as to will there be money, just hints the initial technical review was in line with what they expected,” Gerend said.
The streetcar executive was pleased with support the plan recently received from the Kansas City Council. It reaffirmed the city’s support for the UMKC extension plan despite the passage of the Question 1 initiative in August 2017. That prohibited the city from planning or implementing any rail transit system without citywide approval.
“The City Council adopted an ordinance to support our (federal funding) application and recognized its broad support as a priority for the city,” Gerend said. “It was the first time since Question 1 the city formalized support for the extension. It was a good, strong signal of support.”
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.