A new rail transit boom in America may soon make Kansas City the nation’s largest metropolitan area without a public rail system.
Currently, the three largest metro areas without one are Orlando, Fla.; Cincinnati; and Kansas City. Just this month, a Cincinnati City Council committee endorsed a new modern streetcar system for its city, and Orlando is seriously looking at new rail services, too.
Many smaller metro areas -- including New Orleans; Little Rock, Ark.; Memphis, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Tucson, Ariz.; Salt Lake City -- already have embarked on starter light-rail projects or new extensions.
Here’s a look at cities that offer rail transit lessons for Kansas City:Denver
Began in 1994 with a locally funded 5.5-mile light-rail line from downtown to the Five Points neighborhood, costing $116 million. It overcame defeats at the polls of some regional transit proposals to become one of the fastest-growing metro systems and the envy of most U.S. cities. The latest extension cost $1.67 billion, financed by a regional transit tax. Next will be a nearly $5 billion plan of 119 miles of rail that will extend to its far-off airport.
Lesson: Build a starter line, and it will grow. Charlotte, N.C.
What began as a volunteer-staffed trolley has developed into a growing light-rail system. But when the costs of a new light-rail line doubled over original projections, Charlotte taxpayers began to raise questions. As a result, a repeal of the regional transit tax is on the ballot next month. If the tax survives, Charlotte plans to add soon a modern streetcar line to an African-American neighborhood.
Lesson: High costs can derail plans. Portland, Ore.
The modern streetcar in the United States was born here in 2001 with a 2.4-mile start, now extending to six miles. The streetcar system is touted for huge economic development benefits, turning an abandoned warehouse district into a booming urban neighborhood. More than $2 billion in development and 15,000 new residents are claimed along the route.
Lesson: Modern streetcars breed development. Cincinnati
A city council committee this month approved a $102 million, 3.9-mile modern streetcar line through downtown. Council members, facing a tight budget, opted to spend city capital improvement dollars, citing the opportunity to boost urban development. City Manager Milton Dohoney told the council that the system could be operating by December 2010. As many as 30 other cities are looking at new streetcar lines, including Omaha, Neb.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Columbus, Ohio.
Lesson: Kansas City could fall even further behind its peer cities unless it, too, moves forward on light rail. Houston
Locals were skeptical at first about light rail, but ridership on the $324 million, 7.5-mile MetroRail grew 9 percent in 2006, exceeding 40,000 daily boardings. With such success, plans are moving forward for a regional transit system.
Lesson: Newer light-rail systems tend to outperform expectations.