There is no bigger fan of modern, American-made streetcars than U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who most likely will have a say in approving Kansas City’s upcoming application for a $60 million TIGER grant to pay 100 percent of the cost of a two-mile starter streetcar line from River Market to Union Station.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a group of workers so proud of what they’ve built together,” LaHood said in an early July visit to Portland, Oregon, which has a streetcar-based transit system and is also the home base of Oregon Iron Works, builder of the sleek United Streetcar model that so impressed LaHood.
“You know, it hasn’t been easy to fund streetcars in this country,”
LaHood continued, as quoted in a DOT press release. “But, what I saw in Portland today has impressed me. As I told the folks at Oregon Iron Works, I’m committed to seeing that the streetcar program can be funded with federal dollars. A streetcar is a perfect fit for some communities—certainly Portland sees it as a fit for them—and suiting the needs and qualities of the local population is what livable communities are all about.”
TIGER is an acronym for a $1.5 billion transit program funded as part of the federal economic stimulus program. Deadline for grant applications is Sept 12.
Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson has been holding hearings of the Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to sift through possible grant application projects, and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) recommended the modern downtown streetcar line, which under the TIGER program would be 100 percent funded by a federal grant
Johnson, who refers to the modern streetcar as a “game changer,” believes the original route could be extended in the future to the UMKC campus on the south and possibly beyond, and across the Missouri River to the growing Northland. The sleek modern streetcars can travel at 45 miles per hour, but are very maneuverable in mixed traffic as on Main Street.
One major advantage compared to so-called light rail is cost. Streetcar lines cost about $30 million per mile to build and equip, compared to $65 million per mile or more for light rail. One reason for this cost advantage is that streetcars are lighter than light rail, and do not require deep excavation, which is also unpopular with businesses whose trade can disrupted for months by light rail construction.
Johnson, City Manager Wayne A. Cauthen, officials of KCATA and the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) met Monday afternoon at City Hall to discuss the streetcar proposal. They were joined by representatives of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond.