The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) describes the Metro Area Express, or MAX, as "light rail on rubber tires." The city's bus rapid transit launched in 2005, and serves residential and commercial corridors along Main Street and Troost Avenue.
On Thursday, the Kansas City Council approved an agreement with the KCATA to continue to develop and implement a third line along Prospect Avenue called the Prospect MAX. The bus will run about nine miles from Barney Allis Plaza in downtown Kansas City to 75th Street and Prospect.
Ridership along the Prospect 71 route today, according to Councilman Jermaine Reed, is "the second highest ridership (of any KCATA route) in Kansas City, with nearly 125,000 boardings per month."
The new Prospect MAX is expected to feature up-to-date technology, such as ticket vending machines, interactive smart kiosks and public WiFi, as well as mobility hubs with bikesharing and carsharing services.
"This is an exciting project that can change what riding the bus up and down Prospect is," says Councilman Quinton Lucas, who adds that it fits the city's digital inclusion policy.
The $54 million project will rely on a mix of local and federal funding sources.
Funding from the Federal Transit Administration's Small Starts Program is slated to pay for $29.98 million, and the Federal Highway Administration's Surface Transportation Program would support $8 million. The city of Kansas City, Missouri, has pledged $12.5 million; the KCATA, $3.5 million.
A final design for the Prospect MAX is likely to be completed this year, but construction will not begin until federal funding is awarded — and those funds have not not yet been appropriated by Congress.
The Trump administration's preliminary budget proposal for 2018 calls for a 13 percent or $2.4 billion decrease in transportation spending — including limiting funding for the Small Starts program.
"It's one of those things that's kind of a toss-up, not necessarily knowing what will actually come from D.C., but we are optimistic," says Reed.
The city is also planning to tap funds from the GO Bond, if voters approve the $800 million infrastructure measure in April, to fund half of the promised amount.
"Although we can't control in any way what's going to happen in any way in Washington, D.C.," says Lucas, "we can certainly have some control on our budgeting on this in connection with the GO Bond."
If federal and local funding falls into place, the Prospect MAX could be running by 2020.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.