Kansas City’s downtown streetcar construction process is nearly 50 percent complete and should be finished by this fall.
But then the vehicles will undergo months of testing before passengers are expected to start riding in the first few months of 2016.
“We’re shooting for the first quarter of the year,” Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, said Friday. “The quicker we can open to the public, the better off we’ll be.”
Gerend said streetcar construction is on pace to be finished this fall. The first of four vehicles arrives in September and the rest over the next few months. But the vehicles need several months of testing before passengers can get on board. So that probably moves the public opening to chilly winter months.
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Although some might want to delay the public opening until mild weather, Gerend said the authority knows people will be eager to start riding.
“The pressure we’re getting is as soon as possible,” he said. “If that means the middle of winter, we’ll see.”
A number of restaurants and small businesses in the River Market and the Crossroads have complained that water and sewer work related to the streetcar construction has inconvenienced motorists and customers for nine months and severely affected their bottom line.
But Gerend and Meghan Jansen, a spokeswoman for Kansas City Streetcar Constructors, said that crews have worked hard to mitigate the construction inconvenience and that the most disruptive street work is nearly at an end.
“A good chunk of the most difficult work is behind us,” Gerend said.
Delaware Street between Third and Fifth streets is in the third week of a four-week closure, but Gerend said the Downtown Council and others have tried to help affected businesses with promotions and supportive events.
“I was in Cafe Al Dente on Wednesday for lunch, and every seat in the house was full,” he said.
According to streetcar constructors, the water/sewer work that required large, deep holes down Main Street and along the rest of the route is 88 percent complete. The remaining work is mostly on Main between Ninth and 12th streets downtown.
Track work is 47 percent complete, and the overhead electrical work is 51 percent finished. The Singleton Yard vehicle maintenance facility at Third and Holmes streets is 61 percent done.
Construction should begin in a few weeks on the first of 16 station stops, just north of Anton’s at 16th and Main streets. Kansas City Streetcar Constructors hopes to have a celebration when that first stop is done in early April.
Some people, especially in the River Market, have grumbled that a handful of mature trees are being dug up to make room for station stops and electrical poles.
Deb Churchill, City Market property manager, sent a memo to River Market enthusiasts explaining that work.
She said that trees were removed only when deemed absolutely necessary and that the majority of those were of the sweet gum variety, which litter sidewalks with nuisance seed pods and also have roots that compromise sidewalks. She said better tree varieties will be chosen as replacements, and new trees will go in as the planting season allows.