The Works

Kansas City Fines Builder for Streetcar Delay

Plus all of Canada’s major parties pledge support for Toronto subway extension, and more in our weekly New Starts.

(Credit: KC Streetcar)

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Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

K.C. Grows Frustrated Waiting for Streetcars
The tracks are complete from the River Market to Union Station, and the overhead wire will be finished in a few months, but Kansas City’s downtown streetcar line may not open in time to ferry passengers to and from the Big 12 Conference basketball tournament next March as Kansas City Streetcar Authority officials have pledged.

That’s because the builder of the streetcars, CAF USA, is falling further behind on the four-car order it’s building for Kansas City along with new cars for a modern streetcar line in Cincinnati.

An article in the August 11th Kansas City Business Journal quotes City Hall spokesperson Chris Hernandez as saying the delay is now a “critical” issue since CAF informed the city that it would not be able to deliver the cars in late September. The cars were to have been delivered to the city on June 10th, according to a contract the city signed with CAF in November 2013.

Hernandez explained that the city “acknowledged” but did not “accept” the delay, which means that the city has been charging CAF a penalty of $1,000 a day for every day the streetcars are delayed. On August 14th, the Business Journal reported, the city upped the fine to $3,300 per day. To date, CAF has racked up more than $60,000 in penalties for the delays.

A Kansas City Star editorial Friday criticized the city and the Streetcar Authority for not leveling with the public about the delays, which play into hands of what critics are calling a “toy train” project. Whether this dooms plans for streetcar expansion, the editorial said, will ultimately depend on how well the line performs when it finally does open in 2016.

No Stopping the Scarborough Subway Now
“The people want subways.” That was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s short explanation of why he scrapped a plan to build an extensive network of light-rail lines in Toronto shortly after being elected mayor.

Ford later left office in disgrace, and the Toronto City Council restored some of the light-rail projects Ford canceled. One of his proposed replacement subways, however, came back to life when the council voted in favor of building a three-station extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough instead of a seven-stop LRT line.

The council’s decision means that the city, rather than the regional transit planning agency Metrolinx, will have to pick up the tab for the line, but it now appears that the city can expect some help from Ottawa in building it, now that the last major candidate running for prime minister this fall has pledged his party’s support.

The Toronto Sun reports that Tom Mulcair, leader of the social-democratic New Democratic Party, has pledged that his party too will support the C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion U.S.) Scarborough subway extension if it wins in the upcoming federal election, countering calls from Toronto-area left-wing activists to pull the plug on the project.

According to the news report, Mulcair had an object lesson to inform his decision, namely, what happened to NDP mayoral candidate Olivia Chow in last year’s election for mayor of Toronto.

Chow, who was leading the race at the time, said that she would “be guided by the experts” and switch back to the LRT proposal if she won the mayoralty.

That didn’t go down so well with voters, presumably including those in Ford’s power base in Scarborough, who ultimately elected her opponent John Tory as mayor. (Tory is a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, but Toronto mayors are elected on a nonpartisan basis.)

Chow, who is now seeking a seat in the federal Parliament from a northern Toronto riding, now echoes her party’s leader; she released a statement saying that an NDP government “will support the transportation priorities made collectively by municipal, provincial and territorial governments across Canada, including Toronto, with an additional $1.3 billion ($989 million U.S.) annually in funding for the next 20 years.”

Mulcair’s statement means that all three of Canada’s major national parties are on record as backing the Scarborough subway, killing any chance of the LRT plan’s return.

Buffalo Ready to Extend Metro Line
Buffalo, “The City of No Illusions,” is taking a clear-headed look at extending its Metro LRT line beyond its current terminus at the University at Buffalo’s (UB) South Campus to its North Campus in Amherst, and The Buffalo News reports that it’s likely that some form of extension will be built, most likely a continuation of the existing LRT line that opened in the late 1970s.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s (NFTA) $1.5 million federally funded study of expansion options has identified five possible alternatives for bringing rapid transit service to North Campus. They include two LRT extensions that both involve a mix of subway and surface running, a bus rapid transit line, “preferred bus” enhancements on existing streets, and a “no build” option.

The NFTA estimates that the rail extensions would double ridership on the Metro to 50,000 riders daily.

Key to proceeding with the expansion is the support of UB, which has indicated that it is interested in the project. Buffalo Director of Public Transit Thomas George says the university’s tentative support is “very encouraging and a bit surprising” but cautioned that UB still wants to see frequency, capacity and transit time data before committing to back the extension. The university currently operates a shuttle bus system connecting its three campuses, two of which are currently served by the NFTA Metro. If it drops the shuttle bus in favor of the extended Metro, an estimated 24,000 additional riders will use the line; if it does not, patronage is projected to rise by only 10,000, not enough to justify the project’s expense.

“They don’t want to see any degradation of the current times. If their trip took 10 or 15 minutes longer, I think it would temper the interest a lot,” said George.

The university says it wants to end the shuttle bus service. “We don’t exist to run a transportation system,” said Laura E. Hubbard, UB’s vice president for finance and administration. “Our mission is education and research.”

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: transportation spendinglight railsubwaysstreetcars

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