Downtown streetcar groundbreaking draws enthusiastic crowd

Fifty-seven years after streetcars stopped running in Kansas City, an enthusiastic crowd gathered under sunny skies Thursday for the official groundbreaking to bring streetcars back to Downtown, The Kansas City Star reported today.

“It’s a day that we get on board with a new, dynamic mindset,” Mayor Sly James said as a nearby backhoe prepared to bore into the asphalt in the middle of Main Street just south of Truman Road. The 2.2-mile Downtown streetcar route will run from River Market to near Union Station, and construction should be completed in late 2015, wrote reporter Lynn Horsley.

The Star’s coverage continued:

Councilman Russ Johnson, who has championed the return of the streetcars to Kansas City, said they are catalysts for private investment and development virtually everywhere they are built, and predicted the same will be true here.

The groundbreaking occurred on the same morning as the City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee endorsed spending $8 million on planning for the next eight miles of streetcar lines. The full council vote is expected Thursday afternoon.

The council committee supported an agreement with HDR Engineering for about $3.7 million to plan an extension along Main Street, south from Union Station to about 51st Street. It also authorized a $4.3 million agreement with Burns & McDonnell Engineering to plan extensions east of downtown along Independence Avenue and Linwood Boulevard.

Johnson and others said the planning needs to occur now even though voters have not yet approved those streetcar extensions. Voters will have their say in elections later this year.

Even if the elections fail, Johnson said the city at some point will almost inevitably proceed with some type of extension to the downtown streetcar system, and this planning will be vital to that process.

“All that work will be valid,” Johnson said.

Ralph Davis, Kansas City engineering service manager, said the city frequently spends money to plan for projects before the money to construct them is approved.

“A lot of times you work ahead,” he said, adding that if this year’s vote on streetcar extensions is positive, people will expect actual work to occur in a timely manner. He said this planning will help with that progress.