KC Light Rail

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Archive for September, 2009

US DOT receives 1,400 TIGER applications

The US Department of Transportation received 1,400 TIGER funding applications totaling $57 billion by the Sept. 15 deadline. MARC submitted a multi-jurisdictional application for $88 million that included $6 million for design and engineering of a downtown streetcar circulator. Only $1.5 billion in funding is available nationwide.

While the applications were heavy on highways and bridges (our own application also includes a new freeway interchange), this caught our eye:

The Department of Transportation has designed a rigorous evaluation process that will require projects seeking over $100 million in federal funds to undertake an economic benefit-cost analysis. The required analysis will consider factors such as fuel and travel time savings, carbon emission reductions and economic and public health benefits.

Currently, no highway or bridge is forced to undergo a cost-benefit analysis (and they certainly don't have to prove any emissions or public health benefits — are there any?). Only transit projects are subjected to such scrutiny, which adds years to the design and approval process. The federal playing field is certainly not level, leading state DOTs into the same highway bias.

Here are some other regional applications:

- Olathe, KS
- Independence, MO
- Tanney County, MO
- St. Louis, MO
- St. Charles County, MO
- KDOT
- MoDOT

KC appears to be the only Missouri city that applied for mass transit funding. Others have included bike and pedestrian improvements.

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Round-up: This week in local transit

  • Kansas City's Hail Mary pass (Prime Buzz)
  • ATA plans to cut some service from Wyandotte to Johnson counties (Kansas City Star)
  • Audio ads will soon debut on buses (Kansas City Star)
  • Upgrades coming for North Oak Trafficway (Kansas City Star)
  • Sen. Bond secures $2 million for KCATA bus replacement (scroll to bottom of article) (RealEstateRama)
  • UG holding special meeting Monday (Kansas City Kansan)
  • Transportation Outlook 2040 Call for Projects (MARC)
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Streetcar proposal submitted to USDOT

The regional TIGER application has been submitted to the US Department of Transportation, and it includes a $6 million request for design and engineering of a downtown streetcar. There are lots of other elements (bike/ped, freight rail, Green Impact Zone) in the plan, but the streetcar and BRT portions have been posted on the KCATA website.

We'll be poring over the application in the coming days to bring you an overview and our analysis.

As a reminder, the TIGER grant program is unique to the stimulus program and is competitive and discretionary. MARC's proposal is going up against MoDOT (for I-70 truck lanes, natch), St. Louis (leave a comment if you know what they're applying for), Columbia (ditto) and any other entity in the state that can receive federal transportation funds.

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Avoiding the obvious: Union Station = transit

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Today's coverage of Union Station's continued financial troubles avoids the most obvious solution: transit.

Ask any resident what they think the station's primary function should be and you'll get the same response: Trains. Obvious, right? While the facility is somewhat officially designated as a transit hub, the non-profit that runs it is still focused on the beleaguered Science City and traveling exhibits. Annual attendance at the science museum has stabilized at 140,000, far less than the Kansas City Zoo or the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Exhibits have had success, but don't provide consistency.

Their solution: Boost the station's bottom line with a tax increase while continuing to focus on being a tourism destination. It's a recipe for continued failure.

Transportation built the station to suit that purpose and only transportation can save it.

This would still likely require a new revenue stream to heat and cool the monster-sized interior — the largest expense, at $2.5 million annually — but this obvious connection would be an easier sell to voters, perhaps as part of a regional transit plan already in the works.

The current focus on passenger rail expansion — including Kansas City's designation as a high-speed terminus and the extension of an existing route from Oklahoma City through Kansas — hold great promise for increasing foot traffic.

Kansas City's next attempt at urban rail — a streetcar circulator connecting the station to the downtown loop — will also help.

The main sticking point for creating commuter rail service in the metro has been the distance between Union Station (about a mile) and the region's top job center (the loop). Improving passenger rail and adding a streetcar connection would enhance the prospect for the station as a commuter rail hub. Today's BRT stop at the station barely registers.

Also, shifting intercity bus carriers (Greyhound, etc.) from their far-flung station at 11th and Troost is the next logical choice. Amtrak already has contracts with bus providers that extend the network; currently, they must make stops at both Union Station and the bus depot. We don't have to look far to peer cities like Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, who have paved the way for this shift to intermodalism. All modes benefit as a result of the synergy.

Add all those transit options together on Union Station's massive footprint and you get a base to build retail demand just like large stations in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Few cities can tout such a facility in such a beautiful setting.

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Troost BRT breaks ground

KCATA held a groundbreaking ceremony this morning at 47th and Troost for the new Troost MAX BRT line. Here's a pic of the formalities, courtesy of MARC.

Service will begin in late 2010. The route map is here.

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State Avenue BRT recap

State Avenue BRT Map

The only city in Kansas with Sunday bus service is about make another serious move. This time it's a KCK version of the MAX running down State Avenue from downtown KCMO to Village West.

The message at last night's public meeting was mixed: the route, frequency, and technology has basically been selected, but no funding mechanism exists to operate the service. The Unified Government has posted a survey for you to weigh in on whether transit should be included on a November sales tax election.

The operational funding question must be answered before KCK can apply for federal funding to cover capital costs. Currently, the city's transit services (a mix of fixed and circulator routes that serve over a million rides annually) are funded directly from the city's coffers. As with all municipalities, cuts are expected this year as a result of the economic downturn.

Transit has ranked high on KCK resident surveys in the past [PDF, see p. 4], so chances are good that any sales tax dedicated to it will pass.

The proposed route is served daily by #101 today. The BRT route is straighter (no loop at KCK Community College) and bypasses the West Bottoms in favor of the Intercity Viaduct (I-70); the Bottoms would continue to be served by local KCK routes. New transit centers would be built at 7th & Minnesota in downtown KCK, Indian Springs Shopping Center, and Village West.

The State Avenue BRT project is part of the regional SmartMoves transit program. The first line on Main Street in KCMO opened in 2005, the second line on Troost Avenue is slated to open in 2010.

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