Can the Kansas City Streetcar Expansion Be Built Even If It Wins?
The Kansas City Star published a story the other day which examined the new budget proposal from the Trump administration. The piece stated:
Trump’s budget, which would go into effect in October if Congress approves it, would eliminate the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, a nearly $500 million grant program run by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The streetcar expansion plan is reliant on federal support. According to a 4-page document put out by the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, $100 million of the $227 million expansion cost to expand the downtown streetcar line would be provided by the federal government through the Small Starts program. But that program is also facing a funding freeze:
The New Starts program, which helps fund local transportation projects costing over $300 million (a sister program, Small Starts, assists with projects under that threshold), would be frozen. New applications to the program, which currently has $2.3 billion to spend annually through 2020, would be outright rejected, limiting any new grants and placing the onus on local and state government to fund additional projects. [Emphasis added.]
This means the Kansas City request for streetcar money could be rejected outright. And that money is required for the extension to take place. According to the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance,
The project will require federal grant funding, and the applicant and recipient would be the City just like with the starter line. If federal funds are secured, public involvement in the engineering and design is required.
The language from the court ruling allowing the new transportation development district (TDD) throws another wrench in streetcar advocates’ plans: no taxes or assessments can be collected from within the district until enough external funding—in this case federal funds—are available. The Trump administration has made the availability of federal funds highly unlikely. Congress could seek to continue federal New Starts funding, according to Rich Sampson of the Community Transportation Association of America, but it will be an uphill climb. And even if streetcar funding is provided by Congress, the administration may choose not to spend it.
Voters are being asked to take the risk of expanding the TDD and levying on themselves a special property tax assessment and a sales tax contingent on the Trump administration coughing up 40% of the total streetcar expansion cost. Laying aside the merits of the policy at hand, voters should be wary of approving something that is dependent on a funding source that may be little more than wishful thinking.