Kansas City’s streetcar project is causing short-term financial pain for businesses during construction along the downtown spine. These concerns, highlighted in recent stories in The Star, are valid and deserve the public’s attention.
But so do the positive, long-term benefits of the two-mile line. They ultimately should be well worth the temporary problems now being endured.
The city is investing in a public transit system that will help spur hundreds of millions of dollars worth of redevelopment through new or remodeled offices, hotels and housing. The streetcar line will attract more residents to the urban core and make it easier for everyone to get around downtown.
City officials have made a compelling case that it makes sense to not just install the rail lines now but also to replace old water and sewer lines where needed. This is a smart and effective way to repair basic assets that serve tens of thousands of people. Taxpayers frequently say they want their money spent on public infrastructure; the streetcar project is helping do just that by making 100-year investments in modern pipes.
Still, restaurants, small shops and other businesses along Main Street, Delaware Street and the rest of the route have a right to complain about the construction project. They are enduring partly closed streets, ripped up roads, hard-to-find parking and noise, all of which can make it difficult for their customers. In response, the city and streetcar supporters have put in place well-intentioned efforts to urge people to patronize restaurants, for example, and visit other businesses.
The Star in 2012 opposed the unusual way the city placed the streetcar taxes on the ballot, and the fact that the funding would come from a small tax base.
However, since voter approval, the project has moved along on a timeline that has remained fairly consistent: Start construction in 2014 and begin operating in early 2016. That compares favorably to the many problems facing streetcar projects in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.
Kansas City’s plan is on budget, officials reaffirmed Tuesday. “This is a good growing pain,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the KC Streetcar Authority. “This corridor is going to look tremendously different in five years.”
The frenetic pace of private and public investment in downtown should help make that statement come true.