The fact that the controversial downtown streetcar project is being 'deferred indefinitely' is not good news for drivers, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
VIA Chairman Alex Briseno says all of the roughly $290 million allocated to the streetcar will go to mass transit projects.
Briseno brushed aside a suggestion from State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) and State Sen. Donna Campbell that the $92 million in TxDOT funding earmarked for the streetcar be allocated instead to expanding US 281 outside Loop 1604 without the necessity of building toll lanes.
"That money is allocated to Bexar County for mass transit projects," Briseno said.
He pointed out that the Advanced Transportation District sales tax increase passed in 2004 has already funneled $270 million to 281, 83% of it has gone to 281 outside 1604.
"In my opinion we don't need to spend more on highways on 281 outside 1604," he said.
Briseno says the challenge of the future is to deal with expected population growth, and he says that simply cannot be accomplished with road building alone.
"We can't triple deck I-35, we can't quadruple deck I-35, we're not gong to be able to expand I-10 and buy out all the businesses on the side."
He says the region must build a mass transit strategy, and this will give VIA transit a good opportunity to move forward with that.
He said some money will be allocated to the super congested Stone Oak area, to improve mass transit.
"We're spending $19.5 million to build a park and ride facility at Stone Oak Parkway and 281," he said.
Briseno's comments were immediately blasted by Terri Hall, the leader of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, an anti toll road group.
"State money is not under the control of VIA, so it's not Briseno's call on how that money will be used moving forward," Hall said.
Hall said the $92 million in federal funds were actually from the highways portion of the ATD election, but were swapped with the state for another $92 million so VIA officials could claim that 'no ATD money was being used for light rail' which is what the voters were promised.
And, rather than overspending on us 281, Hall says $200 million was actually 'stolen' from 281 by transportation planners in 2008 and awarded to other projects.
"The amount of chicanery and theft which has taken place on the US 281 project cries out for justice," Hall said.
Highway advocates say when motorists are stuck in traffic on Stone Oak Parkway at 7AM, they seldom mutter that 'if we only had a $19 million park and ride facility at Stone Oak Parkway and 281, my commute would be better.'
Hall and other transportation advocates point out that VIA busses are frequently nearly empty, and say the use of the streetcar money on other 'mass transit' projects would be a betrayal of taxpayers.
Transportation planners for years, while continuing to throw money at the streetcar and other little used 'mass transit' projects, have repeatedly claimed that there 'just isn't any money' available to expand 281 unless toll lanes or 'managed lanes,' which would be free to busses and 'registered carpools' are built.
Larson is expected to press hard in the upcoming session of the Legislature to strip VIA of that $92 million if Briseno continues to attempt to allocate it only for mass transit projects.