Trustees announce plan to defer streetcar project
The VIA Metropolitan Transit Board of Trustees has announced plans to defer the modern streetcar project.
The official action to defer the project will take place at the August 26, 2014 meeting of the Board of Trustees. The VIA Board will also take steps to cancel the agreement with the City of San Antonio to provide $32 million in City funds for the streetcar project.
"We are thankful to those who shared the vision of creating a new transit option that would have invigorated our central business district and connected the region," said VIA Board Chairman Alexander Briseño. "Although we are disappointed that the value of the modern streetcar was not understood or realized by many, we remain optimistic. We are focused and committed to continue the path of this well thought out 2035 Comprehensive Transportation Plan and achieving our mission."
The VIA Board of Trustees is now directing staff to immediately advance the implementation of the additional projects within the existing 2035 Long Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The funds that had been earmarked for the modern streetcar project will now be allocated to such endeavors as the installation of more modern bus shelters, the expansion of the bus rapid transit network, the construction of the U.S. 281 North Park and Ride and the Brooks Transit Center, and the building of a VIAtrans operations facility.
"Most important to us are the VIA riders," said Briseño. "VIA will redouble efforts to continue giving them the best service; modern, environmentally friendly vehicles; increased frequency; and more routes, reflecting the culture that has made VIA an award winner in the transit industry time and again."
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Results of Modern Streetcar Economic Impact Study Released
VIA Metropolitan Transit released the results of a study that examined the economic impact a modern streetcar system would have on the local economy, and the conclusions show that the investment of $280 million in the system will see a return of billions over the next 25 years.
The study was conducted by the SABÉR Institute of St. Mary's University and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce under the supervision of Steve R. Nivin, PhD, who is the director and chief economist for the institute.
"The streetcar project is not a stand-alone project. It's part of a comprehensive transportation plan that has an economic impact," said VIA Board Chairman Alexander Briseño. "This is an investment that's worthwhile. It's one that's important for the community and the future."
According to the study's report, the construction of the streetcar system itself will support over 4,080 jobs with incomes and benefits totaling $206 million. This will have an overall impact of $489 million on the regional economy. Once the system is built out it will attract seven million square feet of new development with a taxable value of $756 million, and the new businesses in the area will employ almost 8,500 full-time equivalent positions earning wages and benefits of about $387 million.
New businesses along the streetcar corridors will boost the local economy by $1.3 billion, and the construction of these new businesses will have an impact of about $1.8 billion. The property taxes generated from the new developments will amount to $265 million, which will be new revenues helping to support the basic services provided by the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, and the San Antonio Independent School District.
In addition to property taxes, sales tax revenues from the new businesses will be nearly $53 million, and the sales taxes generated from the construction of the new developments will be about $4 million.
"We're not talking about the needs of the people today; we're talking about the needs of the people of the future," said Briseño. "We need to provide options and alternatives. This system, as part of that comprehensive transportation plan, provides one of those alternatives."
Public Vote for Streetcar not Allowed by State Law
The legal counsel for VIA Metropolitan Transit has determined that VIA is not permitted to hold a referendum on the modern streetcar project.
The state legislation that governs VIA specifically requires the agency to hold a referendum for any new tax or for any increase in an existing tax rate. Since the streetcar system will be built using existing local funds and no new tax or tax increase is needed, a referendum is not permitted.
The legislation also restricts referendums related to rail projects to transit authorities that have principal municipalities with populations greater than 1.9 million or less than 850,000. San Antonio has a population of just under 1.4 million.
"The short, simple answer is, VIA is not permitted to hold a referendum on the streetcar project," said VIA Board Chairman Alex Briseño. "Similarly, referendums are not held for other transportation projects in the region, such as toll roads and highway interchanges. We will continue bringing our community transit options to meet the current and future transit needs, spur economic growth, and support the vision of SA2020."
VIA Metropolitan Transit (VIA) preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA)
VIA Metropolitan Transit (VIA), in cooperation with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the proposed Modern Streetcar Project in Downtown San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas. To initiate the environmental review process, VIA is conducting agency and public scoping to determine the scope, content, and significant issues to be addressed in the EA. As part of this scoping, VIA is requesting applicable information and data from federal, state, and local agencies to assist in the analysis of potential impacts of the project. A Public Scoping Meeting will be held on the evening of Thursday, March 6, 2014 beginning at 6:00 PM at the Temple Beth-El (211 Belknap Pl. San Antonio, TX. 78212).
The Modern Streetcar project is on track
VIA has been meeting with various stakeholders including city, county and state officials as part of the public comment/input period associated with the alternatives analysis. The alternatives analysis, which includes the route selection, will be complete by early this Summer. After that, environmental work can begin followed by final design work and construction. The project is on track to begin operations in 2017.