Kansas City is one of seven finalists for a highly coveted $50 million federal transportation award, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Saturday.
The Beyond Traffic Smart City Challenge is intended to help midsize cities deal with rapidly changing transportation needs and plan innovative approaches to moving people around cities in the future.
The federal government will allocate $40 million to one city, which also will be eligible to apply for $10 million from Vulcan Philanthropy to support the development of electric vehicles, driverless cars and other low-carbon strategies.
The other finalists are Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco. The competition attracted 78 applications in February, and the winning city will be announced in June or July.
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“It’s exciting,” said Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s recently hired chief innovation officer, who helped draft the grant application. “We’re psyched, and we’re confident.”
Each of the finalist cities will receive $100,000 to refine and embellish its proposal.
Bennett and others had felt that Kansas City was well positioned to compete for the prize, with the downtown streetcar route and Smart City infrastructure such as interactive digital kiosks, cameras and sensors to help with traffic flow and other governmental services.
But more than that, Kansas City has an extensive network of highways, railroads and trucking centers. The grant would allow the city to explore tools for improving that robust transportation infrastructure.
Bennett hopes to use some of the money to provide Wi-Fi and other digital services along a new MAX rapid bus line on Prospect Avenue, similar to the Wi-Fi network that’s going in along the downtown streetcar route. Funds could also be used for expanding bike-share programs, developing regulations for self-driving cars and using technology to make transportation safer and more accessible.