Friday, September 23, 2011

San Antonio streetcar (re)endorsed

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San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit, with new faces put in place for its Streetcar Commission, has reaffirmed a proposal to introduce streetcars to the city.

san_antonio_via_logo.jpgThe commission’s endorsement comes after its original two co-chairmen resigned last month, a move that set off a debate about the merits of VIA's streetcar plans.

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro also cautioned that the city itself probably won't vote on whether to endorse VIA's streetcar plan and other projects prior to a deadline for federal TIGER III grant funding that VIA identified.

But the Streetcar Commission’s endorsement is significant, and in fact expands the scope of a streetcar plan by recommending construction of two lines, running east-west and north-south. The east-west line would be pursued first.

VIA has asked San Antonio to commit $55 million to the project, the same amount Bexar County commissioners pledged to give last month, for the first portion of the project. VIA itself would provide the additional $70 million to cover the cost of the project, currently estimated at $180 million. VIA plans to pursue federal funding through the Small Starts program to advance a north-south line.

“It moves us into the 21st century in terms of transportation,” said Streetcar Commission Chairman Richard Gambitta to local media after a vote Wednesday. Gambitta was elected the new chairman earlier this month.