The City of Fountains has a solid shot at landing a $50 million award that could transform its transportation system.
At least that’s what Kansas City’s new chief innovation officer Bob Bennett believes.
Bennett, who started his tenure as Kansas City’s second innovation officer in January, said that the city’s openness to new technology situates it well to earn the award, which aims to help mid-sized cities deal with quickly-changing transportation needs.
Bennett said thanks to work on Kansas City’s streetcar line and the Smart City project, the city has a great chance at winning the award.
“Kansas City is very well positioned for this grant,” Bennett said. “We’re in the top-tier of cities when it comes to things like smart city preparedness both in terms of infrastructure and willingness to implement programs. … I think we’re very competitive to make it into the top five.”
The “Beyond Traffic, Smart City Challenge” will enable one city to test new transportation technologies via $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million from the Vulcan Philanthropy. The organizations plan to announce the top five finalists on March 12. The finalists will be awarded $100,000 each to revamp their proposals with more details.
Bennett said there are a number of impressive competitors for the grant, including Louisville and Nashville.
If awarded the funds, Bennett said he’d like to digitize a new MAX rapid bus line on Prospect Avenue and develop new regulations and infrastructure for autonomous vehicles. He added that it also would be used for an expansion of the city’s bike-sharing program and green spaces, as well as improve access to city transportation services. The city applied for the grant on Feb. 4.
Whether or not Kansas City wins the award, Bennett said that he’d like to see his proposed improvements come to fruition.
“It’d be tremendous,” Bennett said of winning the grant. “Regardless of what happens with the grant competition, these are activities that we need to do. We can’t close the digital divide unless I get the Prospect bus line digitized. If we receive this federal grant, I’d be able to do that faster than I’d otherwise be able to do.”
Smart City update, Bennett’s transition
The City of Kansas City previously said that it hoped infrastructure for the Smart City project and its streetcar would be in place before the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in downtown. Bennett said that at least some of the city’s public Wi-Fi infrastructure — a key component of the initiative — will be in place before thousands of fans descend on Kansas City. The tournament is set to begin March 9.
“I anticipate that we will have Wi-Fi functioning at least partially by then,” he said. “I do foresee a reporter writing to his or her constituents based on our Wi-Fi. That’s going to happen.”
Bennett said that he’s enjoyed the transition into his new role as chief innovation officer. He previously was an instructor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army.
“It’s been really great,” Bennett said. “I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of the folks here in the city that are doing great work. … There are some very enthusiastic and bright people to work with here.”