Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New mayor pulls support for San Antonio streetcar project

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The city of San Antonio, Texas and Bexar County have withdrawn support of the proposed $280-million VIA Modern Streetcar Project, instead asking VIA to develop a new transportation proposal that could be taken to area voters.

 

The project had funding commitments of $92-million each from VIA Metropolitan Transit and the Texas Department of Transportation.

In a statement regarding the project, the city cited a lack of community support for the 5.9-mile streetcar project. Interim San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who was picked by City Council members last week to fill Julian Castro's place after he was named head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is asking city staff to draft an ordinance for City Council consideration which withdraws the city's $32 million to the streetcar project, redirects those dollars to other development initiatives and states that the City Council will not approve streetcars without a vote of the electorate. The mayor also plans to appoint a Charter Commission to explore transportation and other issues.

"We hear and understand the concerns of our community and agree to discontinue our involvement in the streetcar project. We wish to give San Antonio residents the opportunity to provide input on a new proposal which could culminate with a community-wide vote," said Mayor Taylor. "The public's support and participation in deciding on public transit services is important to the City. It is also consistent with the City's current effort to update the San Antonio Comprehensive Master Plan and Transportation Plan."

In a statement published on its website in March 2014, VIA Metropolitan Transit said its legal council concluded a referendum on a streetcar project is not permitted because the agency is not asking for a new or increased tax.

"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."

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