As the Kansas City Streetcar reached another milestone of more than 3.1 million riders since its inception, efforts are underway to expand service — this time north to the Berkley Riverfront.
If everything goes as planned, including securing $15 million in federal funding, the streetcar could be rolling to the Missouri River in just a few years.
The Kansas City Streetcar Authority, Port KC and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority applied last month for federal funding as part of the highly competitive U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER grants program.
The Riverfront extension is estimated to cost $32 million, of which $17 million would come from private and public funding, primarily from new development on the Riverfront.
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“We’re building a whole new neighborhood on the Riverfront,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.
Construction is underway on the Union|Berkley Riverfront Park which will bring more than 400 luxury apartments and 12,400-square-feet of retail space next spring. The development overlooks the Missouri River just northeast of downtown Kansas City and the River Market. And more development is expected to come.
“We have a great opportunity to connect all of those new individuals to downtown,” Gerend said. Potential riders also include downtown residents and employees who would have easier access to the Riverfront’s amenities, including a dog park and retail.
The extension is expected to add between 1,000 to 1,500 riders a day to the streetcar ridership, dependent on what’s built on the Riverfront.
The TIGER grant application gives a detailed look into what it would take to expand the streetcar service north.
The extension is relatively short — less than three-fourths of a mile long. It would begin at the intersection of Third Street and Grand Boulevard in the River Market and then head north over the Grand Boulevard Bridge. The streetcar would then run parallel to River Front Road to a stop near the middle of the Riverfront development.
The project would also include widening the bridge to make room for a new pedestrian and cyclist path.
It would only take one additional streetcar to maintain the current level of service of 10 to 15 minutes headways.
“The Riverfront will effectively be paying for the cost of the Riverfront extension,” Gerend said. That would include ongoing operation and maintenance costs.
The transportation department is expected to announce early next year — possibly as early as February — which projects will receive TIGER grants.
At that point, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, Port KC and the KCATA will know if they would have the funding in place to move forward.
If they do, they will move quickly into design next year and construction the following year. The streetcar could begin running to the Riverfront in late 2020 or early 2021, Gerend said.
If the project doesn’t win the grant, the agencies will look at other ways to finance the expansion, said Michael Collins, president and chief executive officer of Port KC.
The financial impact of extending the streetcar to the Riverfront is significant.
Land values would approximately double, with the total valuation of the available development sites increasing from $43 million without streetcar service to more than $83 million with streetcar service, according to the grant application.
The increased value would come from increasing the density of the Riverfront.
“It removes the need for a reliance on more automobiles,” he said. “This provides a transit connection where there’s bikes, pedestrians and streetcar.”
The streetcar also would accelerate the momentum of the Riverfront development.
“It moves it faster because the market wants to develop on those parcel of land before they lose the opportunity,” Collins said.