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KC Streetcar Looks West to KU Med in Proposed New Study

Proposed Extension Would Cross State Line into Kansas

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Above image credit: A potential extension of the streetcar on West 39th Street to KU Med and Hospital (background) would be more technically challenging that any of the current extensions being considered by the KC Streetcar Authority. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority is considering a one-mile streetcar extension that would take passengers west on 39th Street from the new Main Street line and across the state line to KU Medical Center.

It also will explore extending a potential line east of Main along Linwood.

“We’ve talked in general as the Main Street extension moves forward to look at extending it beyond Main,” Tom Gerend, executive director of the Streetcar Authority. “We’re in the early phases of discussion.

“There’s strong support and interest from parties and a formal request from KU Med.”

University of Kansas Medical Center officials could not be reached for comment, but in a presentation to the Streetcar Authority board, their rationale was provided: “(Study) initiated in part by request from the University of Kansas Health System to look at improved connectivity with KU Med and regional medical complexes.”

In other streetcar developments, Gerend said the cost of building the planned riverfront extension from the River Market to Berkley Riverfront Park has escalated from earlier estimates and will take longer to complete.

Map of the streetcar extension to the riverfront
The estimated cost of the streetcar extension to the riverfront has risen 27% and the completion date pushed back to early 2025. (Map | KC Streetcar Authority)

The estimated cost of the one-half mile extension has risen 27%, from $20.2 million to $25.7 million, and will not be ready until early 2025. The authority had once projected an early 2024 completion.

The downtown line also continues to lag in ridership because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ridership is down on average about 50% compared to 2019 before the pandemic hit.

The board also was given a brief overview of a potential streetcar extension to North Kansas City.

As for the 39th Street study, Gunnar Hand, director of planning for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, said the United Government is interested in participating.

“East-west connections have eroded over time,” Hand said. “We see this as an opportunity to strengthen our connections to Kansas City, Missouri.”

Hand said that an eventual streetcar stop on Rainbow Avenue would be the preferred option. That would take the extension through the heart of the medical district that includes University of Kansas health care professional schools and KU Hospital.

Building an east-west streetcar route has long been discussed, but in the context of Kansas City proper, not KCK. An attempt to expand the streetcar both along Main and to the east via Linwood Boulevard and Independence Avenue was defeated by voters in 2014.

The proposed 39th Street and Linwood joint study effort will require funding support from the KC Streetcar Authority, UG, KU Med and the KC Area Transportation Authority.

Streetcar in the River Market
Streetcar ridership remains about 50% below its pre-pandemic level. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)

The concept has the support of Mayor Quinton Lucas as well, according to the Streetcar Authority, but the city is not being asked to participate financially.

The Streetcar Authority board authorized spending $75,000, but on the condition a similar amount comes from the other partners.

Gerend also raised the possibility of the streetcar line being extended east from Main on Linwood as far as Prospect, but that concept would not be explored in the new joint study. Still, it was welcomed by authority board member Michael Collins.

“An east-west route is critical,” Collins said. “It’s important to get more people included in the streetcar.”

Any plan to extend the route west on 39th Street would bring the streetcar into new territory, both geographically and technically. The street is narrower and less densely developed than the current downtown line and the planned extension on Main to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“If you’ve driven on West 39th and with a streetcar there, obviously something has to give,” said board member David Johnson.

“The public involvement would have to be huge and we’ll have to go to stakeholders where they are.”

Should the other partners agree to fund the study, it would likely begin early next year and take about one year to complete. Gerend raised the possibility a 39th Street extension could begin initially as a Bus Rapid Transit line and later phased to a streetcar.

Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.

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