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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.


The case for a downtown streetcar


On July 16, KCATA proposed a different kind of light rail for Kansas City: a 2.5-mile modern streetcar line serving as a downtown circulator between River Market and Crown Center.

First, some basic facts about the proposal:

  • Prior light rail studies indicate the "RCP" (River Market > Crown Center > Plaza) corridor is the best opportunity to reintroduce fixed rail transit in KC.
  • Capital costs (approximately $150 million) could be funded 100% by a TIGER grant program that's part of the ARRA.
  • Operating costs (approximately $2-2.5 million annually) could come from new revenue sources adjacent to the route that would not require a city-wide public vote, likely through approval of a Transportation Development District.
  • The Greater Downtown Area Plan, while still in progress, recommends reintroduction of a downtown urban circulator.
  • The line would operate in mixed traffic, remove no on-street parking, and require no property acquisition for right of way.
  • The Downtown Council has indicated they may support the proposal.
  • Modern streetcar vehicles are now made in the US.
  • The proposal is not a complete rehash of the 14-mile plan voters rejected in November 2008, which was designed to bring commuters to downtown from the north, south, and east (although consultants noted earlier this year that only the RCP portion would have had a good shot at federal funding through existing programs).

Now, the tough part:

  • TIGER grants are competitive and are capped at $300 million per request and for each state; St. Louis and others will compete for all or part of that amount.
  • Every city, transit agency, railroad, MPO, and state DOT in the US can apply with separate proposals for the $1.5 billion that's available nationwide.
  • Other Kansas City proposals from MARC, the Port Authority, Public Works (one for bike/ped/trails, another for roads), and the Kansas City Terminal Railway have been presented.
  • Funding will be granted at the complete discretion of the US DOT.

The dilemma for city leaders now is how best to package this or a combination of proposals to compete by the Sept. 15 deadline (insanely short by typical federal standards). US DOT has provided criteria and certainly indicated highways won't be the top priority (sorry, MoDOT).

KCATA did not indicate exactly how, or if, the current MAX line would be affected. It's important to note, however, that the MAX takes an overly-complicated route through downtown and could certainly benefit from a good straightening out.


KCATA’s stimulus streetcar proposal

KCATA presented a modern streetcar proposal at yesterday's Transportation and Infrastructure committee meeting. T&I is reviewing applications for $1.5 billion in competitive TIGER grants that are part of the federal stimulus package (yes, that's $1.5 billion for the entire US). It's conceivable that the entire capital cost could be covered by TIGER funds. The criteria for requests are fuzzy, and there is no formula distribution as with other transportation dollars.

What's a modern streetcar? Think modern light rail vehicle running in mixed traffic. Why is it better than the MAX? Take a walk along the MAX corridor and see how it's improved since 2005. Rail lines spur economic development, period.

See the Star's coverage here and the PowerPoint presentation here.

On a side note: Seattle's first light rail line opens this weekend. Track progress at Seattle Transit Blog.

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KCATA adds RCP line to stimulus list

KCATA has submitted a River-Crown-Plaza "light rail/streetcar" line as part of its projects to be considered for the economic stimulus package that's being prepared by the new Congress. Price tag: $400 million.

Such a route would represent about 5 of the 14 miles still being studied as part of the failed light rail ballot question from November. The northernmost segments — including a new river crossing and I-29 interchange — were by far the most expensive on the entire route and would presumably not be included.

We must say that we're totally surprised (and pleased!) to see this, but aren't very optimistic for its chances. While the public has not been privy to all of the details of how the stimulus money will be distributed to cities or states, we do know the total will only be around $800 billion, with a subset of that to be used for infrastructure spending. Divide whatever that amount is by 50 states and subtract the state-funded projects and you may end up with a few hundred million to be split between all of the cities in Missouri combined.

President-elect Obama's speech today highlighting the "green" aspects of the stimulus do give us hope that states may be asked to focus more on projects that have an environmental benefit. We'll need to see it to believe it.

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All the answers were in today's Star. Still got questions? If not, please check out this great article in today's Washington Post about the rebirth of the American City through the lens of the presidential campaign (it's kinda transit-related, we promise).

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Taking the temperature along the route

The Star provides an excellent snapshot today of how residents and businesses along the 14-mile starter route are feeling.

While the comments run the gamut from excited to suspicious, we encourage all Kansas Citians to trust the federally-mandated process that requires facts to back up any route in exchange for federal funding. Travel times must be competitive (hence the need for eliminating bottlenecks in the street) and ridership estimates must be based on potential (versus just existing riders).

What we find most intriguing is the faulty assumption that light rail will have a more detrimental or divisive effect than the high-volume arteries that already exist along the route. Don't think that's a fair comparison? Ask any neighborhood association why they've lobbied for one-way streets and traffic circles and you'll have the answer.

(Hint: Too many cars are bad for neighborhoods, too.)


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