Wichita still waiting to hear about federal grant for rail service plan

No news is, well, no news on a federal transportation grant Wichita is seeking to help bring passenger rail service back to the city.

Several cities, counties and states, including Kansas City, have received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants from the federal government.

But there’s no word, state and local officials say, about Wichita’s request for $12.7 million in grants to essentially complete the planning – though not the construction – for the possible extension of Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer line to Wichita and Newton. The plan would connect the Heartland Flyer with the Southwest Chief line and close a 185-mile service gap from Oklahoma City to Wichita.

Lindsey Douglas, the Kansas Department of Transportation’s chief of the office of governmental and external affairs, and Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner said Tuesday they’ve heard nothing about the grant application, filed June 3. Last week, local officials said they expected word sometime around Labor Day.

Kansas City officials learned Friday they’ve won a $20 million grant to build a two-mile streetcar line from the River Market area to the Crown Center/Union Station area through the Main Street corridor. The announcement came from the office of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Similar grant projects were announced Friday and Tuesday in Springfield, Ill.; Maryland; Pima County, Ariz.; Windsor, Colo.; Atlanta; Connecticut; and Port of Oswego, N.Y. The projects announced Friday total $81.2 million, far less than the $550 million earmarked by Congress for this year’s TIGER program.

Wichita and Kansas are part of a six-state consortium studying passenger rail expansion in the South and the Great Plains. In addition, the mayors of Wichita, Oklahoma City and Kansas City have a joint letter of cooperation to extend the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City through Wichita to Kansas City.

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