Friday, October 21, 2011

San Antonio officials commit to streetcar plan

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Following earlier recommendations from VIA Metropolitan Transit and Bexar County (Tex.) officials, and despite earlier political turmoil surrounding the subject, the San Antonio City Council on Thursday voted to help fund VIA’s capital plan, including the city’s first modern streetcar line.

san_antonio_via_logo.jpgMayor Julián Castro and eight council members voted in favor of the plan, with only one nay vote and one council member not voting. VIA and the city must now work out an interlocal agreement that includes Bexar County, which is helping to fund the capital plan. The city will also pursue creation of a special assessment district along the streetcar route, which is critical to the line’s advancement.

San Antonio will contribute $40 million to the five-year capital plan, which also includes money for two downtown transit centers and two park and ride facilities. The assessment district, if approved by more than half of the property owners in the proposed area, will generate an estimated $15 million for the project.

Bexar County earlier agreed to provide $55 million in advanced transportation district funds to the plan. VIA says its recently approved bonding capacity will allow the transit authority to give another $70 million.

As is common in streetcar startups, the proposal has generated objections from some residents objecting to purported high costs compared with bus alternatives; some residents called for a public referendum, noting a similar proposal for light rail transit was defeated by voters in 2000.

San Antonio’s plan does include a bus circulator route that runs east and west instead of a streetcar, though VIA has said it eventually wants to build out the east and southern leg of the streetcar system.