Government & Politics

KC applies for one-of-a-kind federal grant

Last year, Kansas City won a coveted $30 million federal grant to transform a public housing project and nearby historic Northeast neighborhood.

This year, the city hopes to win a one-of-a-kind $50 million award to help mid-sized cities deal with rapidly-changing transportation needs. The grant application was submitted Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Beyond Traffic, Smart City Challenge” is aimed at medium-sized cities that can test transportation innovations, and Kansas City officials think this area is tailor-made to qualify.

The federal department will allocate $40 million to one city, which also will be eligible for $10 million from Vulcan Philanthropy to support the development of electric vehicles and other low-carbon strategies.

Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s new chief innovation officer, said the city is well positioned to apply for the grant, especially with its new downtown streetcar route and “Smart City” infrastructure such as kiosks, cameras and sensors to help with traffic flow and other government services.

But more than that, Kansas City has a major network of highways, railroads, and trucking centers. The grant would allow the city to explore tools for improving that robust transportation infrastructure.

“It’s an advantage for us because we can take it farther and be a role model for other cities in the U.S.,” Bennett said.

He would hope to use some of the money to provide Wi-Fi and other digital services along a new MAX rapid bus line on Prospect Avenue. Funds could also be used for such things as expanding bike-share programs, developing regulations for self-driving cars, and using technology to make transportation safer and more accessible.

The top five finalist cities will be announced in mid-March, and each will get $100,000 to refine and embellish its grant proposal. The winning city should be announced in June or July.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley