The VIA Metro Transit board today 'deferred' the controversial downtown streetcar plan, as funding for the project dried up and opponents closed in on an election that would have scrapped the $290 million plan, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"Although we are disappointed that the value of the modern streetcar was not understood or realized by many, we remain optimistic," VIA chairman Alex Briseno told a news conference packed with VIA employees. "We are focused and committed to continue the path of this well thought out 2035 Comprehensive Transportation Plan and achieving out mission."
Briseno says the funding that had been earmarked for the streetcar will go into other mass transit programs, including the Primo bus rapid transit system, transit centers on the north, west, east, and south sides as well as downtown, and improved mass transit services along major thoroughfares like US 281 and Fredericksburg Road.
"We plan to buy 30 new busses, more of our Primo routes, and our vision and dedication to our riders will remain steadfast," he said. "VIA’s SmartMove five year plan which was approved in 2011 will continue to move forward."
He said the plan calls for fighting congestion on I-10 and US 281 mainly by expanding the Primo high speed bus system.
"We understand the request of our sponsoring entities, the city and the county, to defer action on the streetcar project," Briseno said.
The streetcar, and its huge priced tag for about 6 mile line, was increasingly controversial. Earlier this week, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor pulled the city's $32 million in funding for the streetcar, and urged that VIA participate with the city on a charter amendment to set a mass transportation future.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff later asked the county's appointees to the VIA board to vote to place the streetcar on hold.
Briseno says any future major transportation projects will be presented to voters for their support.
Briseno said VIA has no position on streetcar opponents who continue to push for a charter amendment to prohibit any rail transportation from being built in the city without a vote.
"We were disappointed that we weren't able to communicate effectively the value of the streetcar project," Briseno said. "We will collaborate with the community in the future. We still think the streetcar is a good project."
Briseno also said VIA may get more active in the Lone Star Rail plan, to run light rail from San Antonio to Austin. He said light rail mass transportation across San Antonio will also be discussed, but he stressed that the voters will be asked for their update.
Briseno said VIA does not support the reallocation of the $92 million in Texas Department of Transportation streetcar funding to expansions of US 281 without toll lanes as has been requested by State Rep Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio)
"Almost $1.2 billion in highway money has been invested in highway transportation," he said. "Almost 80% of that money has been invested in 281 and other projects. In my opinion we don't have to invest more in highways and on 281. We have spent a lot of money and we are continuing to spend money."