Momentum grows for Omaha streetcar; K.C. already has one. What can we learn from them?

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OMAHA, Nebr. (WOWT) - More Metro leaders are joining the movement to build a streetcar system connecting downtown Omaha to midtown. It's the focal point of a plan to bring new businesses and energy to Omaha's urban core.

Just down I-29 in Kansas City, a similar streetcar system is already up-and-running after a successful summer debut. Joe Reardon, a former Kansas City mayor, helped bring the idea of a modern K.C. streetcar to life.

Reardon told WOWT 6 News: "There's a vibrancy to what's going on in the streetcar district which is incredibly fun to see."

Reardon spoke at a summit organized by the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro-Area Planning Agency. He told the crowd one of the keys to Kansas City's streetcar success was a unified movement of support. He said: "A lot of those elements of momentum I found to be very evident here in Omaha."

A recent study commissioned by the City of Omaha found a streetcar project would cost an estimated $156 million. There are many ways to pay for it, including using $78 million in federal funds. However, federal money isn't guaranteed and can lengthen construction timelines. So Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert prefers using local dollars.

Kansas City's streetcar was paid for, in part, by tens of millions of federal funds. Reardon believes it was the best way to cover the cost. He said: "It was the right decision for us."

Streetcars have been an important part of Omaha's history dating back to the late 1800's when the city's first street cars were pulled by horses. They were eventually replaced by electric trolleys. The trolley system shut down in 1955 due to the rising popularity of buses and cars.

Omaha's new proposed streetcar doesn't have an official proposed route yet. However, the current working assumption is to connect downtown to midtown, the Blackstone District, and perhaps extend the route to the UNMC campus.