Kansas City streetcar costs are comparable to other cities

In April, a new shelter took shape as Kansas City installed the streetcar line’s first stop, at 16th and Main streets. The system will have 16 station stops when completed.
In April, a new shelter took shape as Kansas City installed the streetcar line’s first stop, at 16th and Main streets. The system will have 16 station stops when completed. skeyser@kcstar.com

As Kansas City’s downtown streetcar construction project nears completion, the costs per mile of track are somewhat higher than Portland’s but below that of other new projects in Tucson and Cincinnati, according to an industry lobbying association.

The comparison by the Washington, D.C.-based Community Streetcar Coalition found that Kansas City’s cost is $25.35 million per mile of track, compared with $22.43 million in Portland, Ore.; $28.26 million in Tucson, Ariz.; and $36.76 million in Cincinnati.

And the $25.35 million per mile for Kansas City ended up very close to the original “back of the envelope” estimate that city engineers had before the project was approved, Public Works Director Sherri McIntyre told the City Council on Thursday.

Some other cities have had much higher costs and terrible delays, but Kansas City’s streetcar project is on budget and has gone well, McIntyre said.

Total cost of the downtown streetcar project remains $102 million for a 2.2-mile route (with 4.4 miles of track running both ways) from River Market to near Union Station.

Other comparisons by Community Streetcar Coalition:

▪ Vehicle maintenance facility: Tucson, $10.9 million; Kansas City, $11.6 million; and Cincinnati, $11.8 million. Portland had an existing vehicle facility from an earlier streetcar phase.

▪ Vehicles: Portland, $3.31 million per vehicle; Tucson, $4.28 million; Cincinnati, $4.35 million; and Kansas City, $4.39 million per vehicle for four vehicles. McIntyre said Kansas City is getting “state of the art” vehicles, piggy-backing on Cincinnati’s vehicle contract, that are wider and have extra features than those in Portland and Tucson, suitable for a light-rail system in case Kansas City ever wants to transition to light rail.

▪ Station stops: Tucson, $230,000 per stop; Portland, $310,000; Kansas City, $640,000 per stop for 16 stops; Cincinnati, $700,000 per stop. City Councilman Russ Johnson said the city originally planned more austere stops, but downtown stakeholders who are paying for the project wanted more aesthetically pleasing designs and on-time messaging. The stops also provide level boarding to the streetcars, which some other cities don’t have.

Mayor Sly James said the cost comparison debunks the claim by some critics that Kansas City’s streetcar project is the most expensive in the country.

“That is nonsense,” James said.

The revenue outlook for the streetcar project is also good, City Treasurer Tammy Queen told the council. The project is being paid for in part with special assessments on downtown property owners and from a 1-cent sales tax increase within the downtown streetcar district. Property tax collections are on target, and last year’s sales tax collections came in at $4.8 million, above the original projection of $3.9 million.

All the debt reserves for the project are fully funded, Queen said. If revenues continue to exceed projections and costs, it’s possible the property tax assessment could eventually be lowered somewhat. But Queen said the city needs to see a few years of operating costs before it can be confident in lowering that assessment.

The construction is heading into the home stretch, said Public Works Deputy Director Ralph Davis. Nearly all water and sewer relocations are finished and the track work is 80 percent done, as is the vehicle maintenance facility on Holmes Road between 1st and 3rd streets.

One of the 16 station stops is finished and five more are currently under construction. The overhead electrical system is about 25 percent complete.

Most construction will be finished this fall, when the vehicles start to arrive, Davis said. The vehicles will then each need 300 miles of testing on the track, so the system likely won’t open to passengers until next spring.

James said it’s essential that it be ready for the public to ride in time for the Big 12 and other major downtown tournaments next spring.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.