While construction on Kansas City’s starter streetcar line will be complete in 2015, service won’t actually begin until 2016. A few other cities will open new lines or extensions this calendar year, pending final testing and safety certification:
H Street Line, Washington, DC (January)
Underway as both a streetscape and transit project since 2009, DC’s first streetcar line is a standout because it was done without federal funding; most of Portland and Seattle were built without explicit federal funding, but many of the newer lines (including a recent Portland expansion) have received competitive grants or New/Small Starts funds.
- Length: 2.4 miles (22-to-37 miles planned)
- Vehicles: Modern (Inekon, Oregon Iron Works)
- Peak headway: 10 minutes
- Fare: $1
- Major transit connection: Union Station (subway, commuter rail, Amtrak)
- Funding: Local
Gold Line Phase 1, Charlotte, NC (Spring)
The Gold Line will open as early as March and connect the existing Blue Line light rail line that opened in 2007 to neighborhoods. Phase 2 is expected to start construction in 2016.
- Length: 1.5 miles (10 miles planned)
- Vehicles: Vintage (initially)
- Peak headway: 10 minutes
- Fare: TBD
- Major transit connection: Charlotte Transit Center (light rail, local bus)
- Funding: Federal, local
Oak Cliff Streetcar, Dallas, TX (Spring)
America’s first off wire modern streetcar will connect downtown Dallas with the Oak Cliff neighborhood across the historic Trinity River bridge (which originally carried streetcars). A 1-mile loop extension of the existing M-Line vintage streetcar line is also planned to open in 2015.
- Length: 1.6 miles (Expansions planned)
- Vehicles: Modern (Brookfield)
- Peak headway: 20 minutes
- Fare: TBD
- Major transit connections: Union Station (light rail, commuter rail, local bus, Amtrak)
- Funding: Federal, local
South Loop, Portland, OR (September)
A new car-free river crossing will complete the full loop of both sides of the Willamette River originally envisioned in the late ’80s. The cable-stayed bridge will share space for buses, streetcars, light rail, bikes, and pedestrians — the first of its kind.
- Length: 1.3 miles (Expansions planned)
- Vehicles: Modern (Inekon, Skoda, Oregon Iron Works)
- Peak headway: 12 minutes
- Fare: $1
- Major transit connection: New Milwaukie light rail line
- Funding: Federal, state, local
First Hill Line, Seattle, WA (Fall)
The first streetcar line to incorporate a significant bike facility in the same corridor also stands out for lack of federal funding. Eventually a new Central Connector will join the First Hill line with the existing South Lake Union line.
- Length: 2.5 miles (Expansions planned)
- Vehicles: Modern (Inekon)
- Peak headway: 10 minutes
- Fare: TBD
- Major transit connection: Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (south), new light rail station (north)
- Funding: Local
Atlanta opened December 30, 2014 and Tucson opened July 25, 2014, rounding out last year’s new systems. Both used federal funding, modern vehicles (Siemens and Oregon Iron Works, respectively), and are already planning extensions.
It was a big year in local transit news: elections, streetcar construction, new amenities, and a makeover of our only bi-state transit agency. Here’s the recap:
1. Election defeats
Voters said no to transportation ballot questions multiple times in 2014 — some good (streetcar & MAX expansion), some mediocre (Missouri Amendment 7), and some just plain bad (Clay Chastain’s latest underfunded petition initiative).
City Hall says wait until the streetcar starter line is up and running (early 2016) before attempting expansion again. Statewide transportation funding will likely resurface sooner (Gov. Nixon’s push for tolling on I-70 is the first attempt). Meanwhile, Clay Chastain is running for Mayor (yes, he qualifies) and claiming he will dismantle the starter line if elected.
2. Downtown starter line
The starter line officially broke ground in May and by Dec. 19 had laid 7,165 feet (33%) of the mainline track. A major component of construction was replacement and modernization of utilities, which caused impacts to linger far longer than just installing tracks. The pace of redevelopment along the line also exceeded expectations, with new residential, job, hotel, and retail announcements arriving almost weekly. Also in 2014: Operating hours were announced, branding was approved, and a new Executive Director took the helm.
3. KCATA reorganization
A flurry of activity from within the walls of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority made for an interesting year and a promising future. Here’s a quick timeline:
- January 22: Jackson County’s Robbie Makinen re-elected as chair of KCATA board
- April 23: KCATA announces plans to refocus (and reorganize) the agency around being truly regional
- August 15: Long-time General Manager/CEO Mark Huffer resigns
- September 25: Johnson County Board of Commissioners approves management consolidation with The JO
- November 19: New CEO search begins, KCATA approves new “RideKC” regional brand
Reports indicate that deals to bring Wyandotte County and Independence back into the KCATA fold are in the works.
4. SpotShotter success
Gunfire along the Troost MAX line is down 26% thanks to new technology that pinpoints the location with sound, aiding police response. It’s a collaboration between agencies (KCATA and KCPD) that’s producing real results.
5. Bike share expansion
BikeShareKC finally opened new kiosks in Midtown and near the Plaza.
6. Rock Island ROW purchase
Jackson County finally reached a deal to purchase the Rock Island right of way from Union Pacific, as well as a federal grant to fund part of the purchase. After negotiations stalled with Kansas City Southern over access to their existing tracks, the Rock Island remains the best chance to rekindle County Executive Mike Sanders’ regional rail plan.
7. Downtown bus realignment
In transit speak, the “Comprehensive Service Analysis” would shift all downtown bus routes to Grand and 11th/12th streets (“Transit Emphasis Corridors”). The change would dramatically enhance KCATA’s utility for short trips within the greater downtown area, provide better passenger amenities (“superstops”), and dovetail perfectly with frequent streetcar service on Main Street. The 10th & Main transit center would be replaced by an on-street facility just east of City Hall.
8. New service (#105, expanded #47, larger #101 buses)
It’s not common for KC to get a completely new transit route, but the modest #105 is actually notable for being the product of grassroots efforts by the Rosedale community in KCK. Constant complaints led KCATA to improve #47 service to the Truman Sports Complex. KCK’s flagship route #101 finally got larger buses in January to relieve overcrowding.
9. 31-day & regional passes
Both The JO and KCATA switched to 31-day passes (which cuts down on the cost of printing unique passes for each calendar month). The Regional Transit Coordinating Council facilitated making the more expensive JO pass the de facto regional pass that would be accepted on all of KC’s transit systems. Both efforts were easy wins entirely focused on existing customers.
10. Workforce connex grant
The Mid-America Regional Council scored a $1.2 million TIGER planning grant to study how to “double the number of jobs accessible by public transit in the greater Kansas City area” after an embarrassingly-low ranking by Brookings. The real test will be what the region does with the study’s findings (hint: it will require regional funding).
11. More WiFi
KCATA unveiled free WiFi service on MAX and other key routes. The system is basically free to the agency, as well, thanks to T-Mobile. The JO began free WiFi on its commuter routes in 2010. “SmartCity” partner Cisco unveiled plans that would enable free WiFi along the downtown streetcar route.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Full audio from the July 16, 2013, oral arguments at the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District are now available.
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.