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By Katie Bernard, Kansas City Star
Robert Felix, a Kansas City native who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and now lives in Shawnee, has always known about the old cable car tunnel that runs below Eighth Street from downtown to the West Bottoms. As the new Kansas City Streetcar system gains popularity he wondered: Could the Eighth Street Tunnel/streetcar line be restored and used to link the two parts of the city?
"If it could be rehabbed I think it would be a really cool connector between downtown and the West Bottoms," Felix said.
The short answer to Felix’s question is no.
The long answer is this:
There are a variety of barriers to making the tunnel part of the modern streetcar system. When the tunnel was used, around 1888, it held a non-electric cable car as part of an elevated line that operated differently from the current streetcars. The route was quickly abandoned for a Ninth Street line which was then abandoned yet again for a 12th street line, according to David Johnson, a member Streetcar Authority board and Chief Strategy officer for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.
View of the West Bluffs and the entrance to the 8th Street Tunnel. Kansas City Public Library
The Streetcar Authority did consider using the old 12th street route in its 2012 study, but that proposal was rejected by voters.
In order to make the Eighth Street tunnel functional for today’s purposes, engineers would need to figure out a way to run the car in the tunnel, build a structure for it over Interstate 35 and land the car in the West Bottoms, which is a flood plain, Johnson said. The city would also have to either buy or condemn private property over the entrance of the tunnel. The entrance sits under the State Street building at Eighth and Washington.
"It’s probably something the engineers would say I don’t know why you would even bother," Johnson said.
Aerial view of Kansas City, showing the 8th Street Tunnel in the left foreground. Kansas City Public Library
Despite its lack of present day utility, Johnson said, the tunnel is still a fascinating piece of Kansas City history. He called it a relic of a time when Kansas City had a comprehensive, privately-run transit system. Johnson was able to tour the tunnel a little over 10 years ago. At the time, he said, the cable car tracks were no longer visible but lines of the original Edison light bulbs still stretched the length of the tunnel.
8th Street Tunnel, 2005. Kansas City Public Library.
8th Street Tunnel, 2017. Credit: Lindsey Foat.
"It’s interesting from a historic perspective but it’s really not interesting from a 'oh lets put streetcars here' perspective," Johnson said.
For its part, The Star was not able to examine the tunnel first-hand at this time. In its current state, the owners of the property sitting above the tunnel’s entrance would not allow reporters and photographers to enter the tunnel because, they said, it is a liability. The property is managed by DST Systems.
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