The ongoing vote to extend the Kansas City streetcar south has piqued the interest of homeowners and businesses south of the Country Club Plaza.
The current proposed route to the Plaza — which will go up for a final vote next month — would extend the streetcar 3.75 miles down Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Volker Campus at 51st Street and Brookside Blvd. Some proponents want to see the line extended an additional 6.3 miles along the Harry Wiggins Trolley Track Trail, which winds adjacent to Brookside Boulevard through Waldo and east to 85th Street and Prospect Avenue.
In March, the South Plaza Neighborhood Association wrote a letter supporting the extension along the right-of-way, where the historic Kansas City trolley ran until 1957. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority(KCATA) bought the right-of-way in 1981, where it built the existing walking trail.
“We’ve been interested in this ever since the first piece (of the streetcar) was introduced as a possibility,” Keith Spare, president of the South Plaza Neighborhood Association, told the Kansas City Business Journal. “We knew early on the effort to pave the right-of-way on Trolley Track Trail was designed to give space for rapid transit.”
Nobody knew how successful the jogging trail would be when construction began, Spare said. Now, his neighborhood association, and the property owners and businesses it represents, supports extending the KC Streetcar along Trolley Track Trail while maintaining the existing pedestrian path.
“For us it would be a great thing,” he said, adding that he hoped further extension would connect residents of the community to jobs, as well as recreational opportunities in Downtown, such as the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Original tracks from the old Country Club trolley line are still visible in Kansas CIty's Waldo neighborhood.
The Malborough Community Coalition supported a slightly different iteration of the route that was proposed a few years ago. Instead of following the old streetcar line to its terminus, the group favored a plan that would route a new streetcar closer to the neighborhood instead of dipping south of 85th Street.
“It was important to the Coalition that a streetcar route be as accessible to the most Marlborough residents as possible and that the alignment provide opportunities for economic development,” Diane Hershberger, healthy community program director for the Malborough Community Coalition, wrote in an email. “When the time comes again to consider alignments in or close to Malborough neighborhoods, most likely the Coalition will actively engage in the planning process.”
The “Country Club Right of Way” route was last studied in 2013, as part of the NextRail KC Streetcar Expansion system overview. At the time, the cost of an extension south of the Plaza was estimated at $194 million.
Although the Country Club Right of Way scored well compared with other potential extensions for its potential ridership, walkability and developer interest, the area studied would have little impact to improve property values or add potential employers along the route. The study, however, did not consider the possibility of extending the line a little more than two miles east to Cerner Corp.’s new Innovations Campus.
At the time, the Country Club Right of Way had “high levels of support and equally high levels of oppositionfrom certain individuals,” the study noted.
“My neighborhood has a couple of people who are not excited,” Spare admitted. “Our reason for writing a letter was to make it clear what those at the terminus really believe most and want."
If funding for the current extension to UMKC is approved, Spare said, "We want to have a big welcome sign hanging up when it is complete.”
The current vote would set funding levels for the Main Street Transportation Development District (TDD) to expand the existing streetcar line south to UMKC. Voters approved the formation of the TDD in 2017. Eligible voters must apply for ballots by April 3, and voting will take place between April 24 and June 12.