One of the biggest obstacles to extending Kansas City’s starter streetcar system into the Northland is the problem of how to cross the Missouri River.
Leaders in North Kansas City and Kansas City are considering an agreement this week that hopes to find a solution — one that could involve the Heart of America Bridge.
“Basically we are forming a partnership with the Mid-America Regional Council and Kansas City to move forward with a study of how the streetcar system can come north,” said Matt Shatto, North Kansas City’s city administrator.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, North Kansas City will consider entering into the agreement and paying to study the idea of running a streetcar line across of the Heart of America Bridge and north to 32nd Avenue. A Kansas City Council committee will take up the issue Thursday.
Under the agreement, each city would pay up to $250,000 to equally fund the study.
The Heart of America bridge was chosen in part because it is near the streetcar starter line.
“That is one of the closest access points,” Shatto said. While the study will look at that bridge, other alternatives would be considered, too.
Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson said the bridge might be able to be modified to support rail transportation. The study would look at adding capacity or reusing existing capacity to accommodate streetcars.
“Our general goals are not to cross with the traffic or take away an existing bridge capacity,” Johnson said.
In general, a study would look at whether running streetcars over the river is feasible, how much it would cost, where it would be located, how many riders it would attract and whether there is any benefit to economic development.
The study is expected to be completed by year’s end, depending on the scope agreed upon by the two cities, said Tom Gerend, MARC’s assistant director of transportation.
While the Heart of America Bridge has been identified as a possible crossing, no conclusions have been reached.
“Clearly, the study will be looking at possible alternative alignments,” Gerend said. “The river crossing is the largest component and the biggest obstacle.”
The study would look at existing structures and examine the possibility of building new ones.
Downtown voters in December approved funding to help pay for the two-mile starter system, which will run from River Market to Union Station.
In a mail-in election, voters who lived in the streetcar district approved the 1-cent sales tax and property tax increases.
Collection of the sales tax began today.
“The first two miles were always intended to be a starter line,” Johnson said. “Its very hard to design the entire thing from day one.”
Kansas City is getting ready to study expanding the streetcar system to the east, west and south. City officials hope to have the Phase 2 expansion study done by year’s end.
“The question is not whether we are going to have a streetcar system. We are going to have one,” Johnson said. “Now that we made that decision, we need to study how to go beyond the starter to a service that really knits together the urban fabric of Kansas City.”
North Kansas City officials have been interested in expanding public transit through their city to the Northland for quite a while, Shatto said.
In January, Mayor Sly James and other Kansas City officials met with the North Kansas City Council to talk about the starter line.
North Kansas City leaders indicated in February they were willing to move forward with the partnership. However, they expressed concerns after two property owners sued Kansas City, arguing that the new taxes on downtown property owners were unconstitutional.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit last month.
While the study would be a first step, Shatto said it would be an important one in the process of possibly bringing streetcars north of the river.
“Without this, nothing else can happen,” Shatto said. “This will allow for future decisions.”