Streetcar money to be used, without earmark for more streetcars

File photo. Construction in preparation for the downtown streetcar route.

File photo. Construction in preparation for the downtown streetcar route.

What to do with about $8.8 million borrowed toward a streetcar expansion that voters later rejected?

After more than an hour of debate largely over appearances, the city council Thursday voted to keep the money for other projects, but cut out wording that $3.5 million of it would be used for another streetcar expansion attempt.

What that will be used for or if it will be paid back remains undecided.

The rest of the money – the remainder of $10 million borrowed at a low 1.2 percent interest rate – will help fund key projects and get them done sooner than otherwise possible.

They include a new roof for Bartle Hall, a tornado shelter and gym at Garrison Community Center and streetscape improvements from Southwest Boulevard to McGee Street.

Those projects have other funding sources like federal grants or PIAC money that will come in later and go toward paying off the $10 million in bonds by a deadline of June, 2017.

Whether the $3.5 million held in limbo will go toward other projects, another streetcar attempt or be paid back is a fight or fights for the future.

As the Thursday debate showed, battle lines are drawn.

Councilman Jim Glover argued that using the money for streetcars was a stick in the eye to 60 percent of voters who rejected expansion.

“I think that will hurt our efforts later” to expand the streetcars, he said.

Mayor Sly James and others noted that 60 percent of the voters along the proposed Main Street expansion voted for it, that it went down because people to the east opposed routes there.

“If a vote were held today from Union Station to UMKC,” James said, “that would pass with flying colors.”

Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo supported James about voters and Main Street: “…they spoke very loudly they wanted an extension, so there is no disrespect for the voters.”

Councilman Scott Wagner said he supports streetcar expansion but shared Glover’s concerns about appearances and voter ire.

Councilman John Sharp said he supported using the money for other projects but successfully suggested taking out the wording about $3.5 million for streetcars.

“I think that wording is problematic and it’s like putting a bulls eye on our backs,” he said.

Sharp said the council – in a move to get federal funding – moved too quickly to get voter approval for expansion before the 2-mile streetcar line started downtown.

At the same time, he said, “I think 20 or 30 years from now if we don’t expand it, people will think we’re nuts.”

No council member spoke against streetcar expansion. They voted 9-3 to pass the ordinance for the projects with the streetcar wording removed.

Leave a Comment