KC Light Rail

Your source for news and information on Kansas City’s light rail progress

Second Public Meeting recap

First off, there are some details about the light rail route that are almost guaranteed:

  • Street-running for the entire route; no plan to acquire property for the tracks.
  • The northern terminus will be either the Kansas City Water Works [map] or Vivion Road, heading south through North Kansas City on Burlington Street.
  • An option for a new bridge crossing the Missouri River (it's included in the $600 million price tag).
  • Main, Walnut, or Grand between River Market and Crossroads (straight shot, no loops mentioned).
  • Main Street south to the Plaza (47th).
  • MAX components could be redeployed on another route with federal approval (replacing #71 Prospect, for example).
  • This is the only plan that's official.

After that is where it gets tricky. The consulting team presented three southern branches and termini for public comment:

  1. 51st & Main/Oak (UMKC).
  2. East on 47th/Volker to Troost Avenue, then south on Troost to 63rd (The Landing).
  3. East on Volker/Swope to Prospect/Bruce Watkins (Park-and-Ride).

Which would you choose? Alignment 1 saves money, especially if you elect to build true light rail (more on that below), but doesn't address any of the transit-dependent population on the east side of the city (important for a follow-up election). Alignment 2 falls into the city's most used transit corridor, but only half of it. Also complicating Alignment 2 is the already-approved Troost BRT project due in 2009. Alignment 3 would be well served by future extension possibilities along the Rock Island corridor (to Raytown and the Sports Complex) and reserved transit right-of-way along Bruce Watkins (only from 47th to the Grandview Triangle). Some, however, questioned Alignment 3's ability to properly serve the east side when most transit options run north/south.

The consultant team also sought input on the technology: traditional streetcar, modern streetcar, or full light rail. The answer basically boils down to speed and price. Full light rail (like Denver and Houston) costs more for two reasons: track depth/complexity and station/vehicle cost. Since the light rail vehicles weigh more and a dedicated lane would be used, utilities would be relocated away from the route. The track bed must also be deeper to support the extra weight. A new or rebuilt river crossing would be required. Benefits of full light rail are improved travel time, safety, and flexibility for future upgrades. Modern streetcars might have a dedicated lane, but the vehicles carry fewer passengers and track bed would have to be upgraded to support full light rail if needed in the future. Modern streetcars (like Portland) are less expensive, carry fewer passengers, and wouldn't require full stations. Traditional streetcars (like Little Rock and Kenosha) in mixed traffic carry even fewer passengers and are slow; they also didn't generate much interest last night. We should note that the Portland Streetcar system that is frequently referenced is essentially an 8-mile downtown circulator, not a spine. Portland's spine is full light rail, called MAX.

There was also some discussion about funding, but we were far more interested in route and technology. If you attended and took notes about the funding issues, please feel free to share them in comments. We'll also be linking to the meeting materials once they've been posted on the KCATA website.

UPDATE: The Star's Prime Buzz has video from one of yesterday's sessions.

7 Comments so far

  1. James October 30th, 2007 10:57 am

    The way I see it, there are two options:

    1) Build full light rail tracks, but only use modern streetcar technology. Yes, building full light rail tracks is more expensive but we need to do it if this starter line is to become the main spine for a full light rail system. We could try to make up the additional cost for building full light rail tracks by opting for the shorter route (Water Works to UMKC) and by only using (for now) modern streetcar technology, stations, etc.


    2) We could just build the starter line as a modern streetcar system with the understanding that if a full light rail system would ever be built in the future, it may go east/west connecting the ever-increasing sprawl of Missouri and Kansas suburbs. The starter line would then act as a “midtown streetcar circulator,” similar to Portland’s. And the main full light rail “spine” would connect, say Overland Park to Blue Springs (with a stop at the stadiums of course).

    Personally, my vote would be for option 1: Build the system using modern streetcar technology and opting for the shorter route, but laying full light rail tracks for future transitions.

  2. doinkman October 30th, 2007 1:23 pm

    For the main street alignment, just how much faster will a true light rail car system be? It’s still going to have the same right-of-way issues as a cheaper streetcar system. I think it would be better to have smaller cars running more frequently for this stretch. I don’t think it’s a deal breaker if you have to change vehicles from the true light rail cars going to the suburbs to this urban streetcar system.

    On the S. alignment, my vote is Troost. I think light rail would certainly bring some major developments from 48th all the way to 63rd…. but it is pretty silly that we are currently planning a new Max along the same route.

  3. northlander October 30th, 2007 5:13 pm

    Well the doinkman got it right ,do you want to pay another $40 million per mile to get downtown 3 minutes faster. Streetcar 14-15 mph LR 19mph Avg times. Guess we need to know some more facts about the water/sewer tax before we get in over our heads.Or could this be a way to pay for that with trasnit money?

  4. Dave October 30th, 2007 10:49 pm

    full light rail in a dedicated lane would be TWICE as fast as a streetcar in mixed traffic, per last night’s meeting. regardless, it’s not just about the travel times, it’s about being capable of handling future extensions without ripping out tracks or requiring a transfer between lines just to go beyond the initial spine.

    and again, this won’t fly unless there are federal matching funds and a dedicated tax, which will both be separate from any funding for the sewer problem.

  5. northlander October 31st, 2007 6:15 pm

    So why don’t we go with something we can afford?[streetcars]If we dig up the streets curb-curb wont all the utilities be replaced? How could you have dedicated lanes without blocking out traffic lanes?Streetcars could go to the downtown airport and have light rail go to KCI. Light Rail is to large for the downtown streets.
    LightRail would only be about 19mph,streetcars 15mph not twice as fast.You could buy 3 streetcars for the price of one light rail so more pick-ups within the hour and still run the MAX down Main/troost/etc.

  6. northlander November 1st, 2007 4:51 pm

    If streetcars can go 45mph and Light Rail goes 60mph how is that twice as fast?

  7. northlander November 2nd, 2007 10:12 pm

    The Light Rail will be only 5 minutes faster than a streetcar. This is per HNTB. With the Light Rail 66% more in cost. Speed and time given by HNTB.

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