By LESLIE COLLINS
December 25, 2013
NextRail KC team members are continuing to evaluate the top three streetcar corridors and figure out ways to fund construction of streetcar line expansions.
“This is all extremely preliminary, and we’re just now dreaming our way into understanding what will work best,” said Vincent Gauthier, director of planning for architecture firm BNIM which has been tasked with studying potential streetcar lines.
Earlier this year, Kansas City City Council members gave their approval for BNIM and its sub-consultants to further analyze three streetcar corridors: Independence Avenue, Main Street Plus (a combined Main Street and Country Club Right-of-Way route), and 31st Street/Linwood Boulevard.
Each streetcar corridor may function differently, depending on street alignment and other factors. For some corridors, the streetcar may run alongside a curb or in the center of the street. In New Orleans, the streetcar operates in the center greenway with vehicle traffic running along either side, Gauthier said during the December NextRail KC meeting.
Over the course of the next few months, the team will continue to garner community feedback and collect other data to determine feasible stop locations and spacing, the length of each streetcar route, streetcar alignment and operations, and how the streetcar could impact other nodes, like vehicle traffic, buses, parking, pedestrians, among others. One of the goals is to identify the most cost effective and impactful expansion of the streetcar project, Gauthier said. The group will also look at federal funding options. NextRail KC plans to conclude their detailed route analysis in February and present a final plan to the city council in March. A public corridor workshop will be held for each of the three proposed streetcar corridors beginning Jan. 13 through Jan. 17. Dates, times and locations are to be announced.
“While we have a strategy in place, this is all very preliminary,” stressed Doug Stone of the Polsinelli PC streetcar project team, which is tasked with evaluating financing options.
Using 2019 dollars, the cost of construction for all three streetcar corridors would be $460 million, if building shorter routes. To construct the longer routes, which tentatively include Independence Avenue to Hardesty, 31st Street to the VA Hospital, and Main Street from Crown Center then continuing down to Waldo, the cost of construction would be approximately $625 million. Annual cost of operation of the shorter routes would be $7.1 million, and for the longer routes, $9.3 million.
City Council member Russ Johnson, who chairs the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said each corridor is tied to the fate of the other and that the city would launch the streetcar corridor expansions simultaneously.
“The whole goal of this process is to figure out what the best balance is, and right now, the best balance is these corridors are stronger when they hang together than when they hang separately,” Johnson said.
Johnson added there’s no desire by the city to “piecemeal” the project.
“We will continue to look at this as a systemwide process,” Gauthier said.
Timeline for having the three corridors operational is by 2020, Johnson said.
In order to fund the streetcar expansion, creating a new, local funding stream is vital, said Stone.
One likely option would be to create a Transportation Development District (TDD) similar to the one created for the downtown streetcar. Creating a TDD would require two elections, one to create a TDD and another to determine the taxing structure. One proposal is to impose a 1 percent sales tax on businesses located within the TDD boundaries and also impose property assessments on both residential and commercial properties within the TDD.
For a house/condo valued by Jackson County at $100,000, the annual property assessment would be $133. For a commercial building valued at $1 million, the annual property assessment would be $1,536. Non-profits would not be exempt from the assessments, but could be assessed at a lower rate, Stone said. For non-profits, one proposal is to make the first $300,000 of market value exempt from the assessment. The first dollar over the $300,000 would be assessed at 40 cents per $100, he said. Tax Increment Financing (TIFF) projects and tax abatement districts would not be exempt, either.
To further fund the project, the city would likely purchase a 25-year bond.
Not all of the properties located within the TDD will be required to pay a special property assessment, Stone said.
“Assessments are tied to the fact that there is a special benefit to the property,” Stone explained.
Therefore, properties subject to the assessment will vary along the route. Along Main Street, for example, assessments could apply to properties located within six blocks of the line in certain areas and within two blocks of the line in other areas. However, the property assessment will not apply to properties located further than a ½ mile from either side of the line.
The city of Kansas City will also look at other local, state, and federal funding options and private/public partnerships. There are creative ways for putting non-local funding and federal matches together, said Allison Bergman of Hardwick Law Firm, LLC. Potential funding could come from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), through the Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), among others, she said.
Despite the projection of increased economic development along streetcar routes, some voiced concern regarding the impact of construction on existing businesses.
“Those small businesses are not only asking how they will survive the assessment, but how they will survive construction,” said Bobbi Baker-Hughes, NextRail KC team member and president of the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Sherry McIntyre, director of the city’s Public Works Department, said the city is working to minimize negative impacts to businesses. The most disruptive portion of streetcar construction involves replacing water mains and repairing sewers along the corridor, she said.
“We’re putting the burden on contractors to maintain traffic during construction,” she said.
For the downtown streetcar and other expansions, the contractor will work on blocks and segments at a time. If a road must be closed, access to a business must be maintained, she said. The city is also listening to and addressing the concerns of individual businesses, she added.
“We put the burden on the contractor to oblige those issues because we want to make sure that nobody fails,” McIntyre said.
“We’re going to make sure at every level that that disruption doesn’t happen,” said City Council member Jim Glover.
As for the additional tax burden, Bergman said other cities with streetcars have established a needs-based taxpayer assistance fund to help residents pay for the additional property tax assessments.
For more information about the streetcar, visit nextrailkc.com or follow NextRail KC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/next.rail.kc.