City ready to move forward with streetcar expansion

Northeast News
January 22, 2014

Kansas City City Council members aren’t hesitating on moving forward with expanding the city’s streetcar line.

“We are moving so quickly,” City Council member Jim Glover said during the city’s Jan. 16 Transportation and Infrastructure and Finance, Governance and Ethics joint committee meeting. “Usually City Hall is accused of moving too slowly and not getting things done and not seizing the initiative. This is one time where I think it’s appropriate to seize the initiative and to go fast.”

Doug Stone of Polsinelli PC outlined the streetcar expansion timeline and process during the joint meeting. Stone said it’s vital to move forward with forming a Transportation Development District (TDD), since it’s the first step in a multi-year effort to expand the line. In addition, the city knows the current personnel with the U.S. Department of Transportation who support streetcar initiatives, and forming a TDD is necessary in securing additional federal funding, he said.

Proposed boundaries of the expansion TDD run from State Line Road on the west to I-435 on the east, with the Missouri River as the northern boundary. Southern boundaries include 89th Street from State Line Road to Ward Parkway, 85th Street from Ward Parkway to 71 Highway, and Gregory Boulevard east from 71 Highway.

Establishing a TDD would provide a funding source for the streetcar expansion through special property assessments and a 1 percent sales tax. However, the TDD would not fund the entire project, and other funding sources would come from federal and state funds and potential public-private partnerships. To establish a TDD, two elections must be held; the first election would ask registered voters within the proposed TDD to decide whether or not to form the district, and the second election would ask voters to decide on TDD revenue sources.

“We tried to create a TDD boundary that had sufficient revenue capacity to be meaningful when compared to the scale of the project and yet not create a district that was larger than necessary in order to preserve some economic base (for the third phase),” Stone said.

Proposed streetcar expansion lines include Independence Avenue, Linwood Boulevard/31st Street, Main Street Plus, and Prospect MAX (Prospect/12th Street). Route lengths would depend on the amount of available funding, Stone said.

Committee members voted to submit a petition to the Jackson County Circuit Court in order to hold the TDD elections. If the court approves the petition, the city plans to hold the first election in August of 2014 and the second election in November of 2014. Construction would begin in late 2018 to 2020, Stone said.

During the public testimony, comments remained positive.

“I’ve never seen this level of excitement,” said Lou Austin, chairman of the 3-Trails Village Community Improvement District, transportation chairman of the South Kansas City Alliance and board member of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance. “I’m a believer in carpe diem. It’s time we begin to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Austin told Northeast News the business community is paying attention to the streetcar line and how they can benefit from the project. Building the streetcar line also creates additional transit choice, he said, which can amount to significant dollar savings for area residents.

“I personally don’t like paying taxes for anything; However, I embrace the opportunity to pay this (tax) to get something larger for myself and for my neighbors,” Pendleton Heights resident Linda Fleischman told the committee. “It will be lovely to have more transportation options in the city for myself, but I’m also excited about the possibility for the people in my own community who have limited resources. I personally believe in the bottom of my heart that this will serve as a springboard for economic betterment for them.”

For the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) students, the streetcar will also have an impact, said Caleb-Michael Files, chief of staff on UMKC’s Student Government Association. SGA, along with the university’s vice chancellor, signed a resolution in support of the streetcar. Parking is limited on campus and it’s not uncommon for a student to drive around for 30 to 40 minutes looking for a spot, he said. With more students moving into Midtown, the streetcar will add to the quality of life and allow students to save additional money by not depending on a car, he said.

“I think we’ll reap huge rewards,” Glover said. “We still have some I’s to dot and some T’s to cross and specific work to do, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Streetcar Info

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