Via promises to bring street car back in future

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Streetcar project has already cost you $17.2 MILLION
By Emily Baucum
Friday, August 1 2014
News 4, San Antonio

With $17.2 million in taxpayer funds have already been spent, VIA Metropolitan Transit is shelving its plans for streetcars in San Antonio and moving on to other projects. The proposed plan was controversial from the start, and opposition was growing. The city clerk confirmed an anti-streetcar group had gathered enough signatures to put the streetcar project to a public vote.

The city then pulled its funding for the project earlier this week. But now the anti-streetcar movement has hit another roadblock. City attorney Robbie Greenblum said Friday that even though the city clerk confirmed the petition signatures, he says the opponents did not collection the 20,000 valid signatures needed to put it before voters.

The goal of the petition drive was to put an issue on the November ballot asking voters to change the city charter. The change would require city council to get the voters' approval before moving forward with streetcar projects.

Greg Brockhouse with the Streetcar Vote Coalition says if the city rejects the signatures on that petition, the group will take the city to court. On Monday, both the city and county pulled their support and financial backing for the project. Meanwhile, VIA is vowing to get back to basics as it shelves the controversial streetcar project.

It would have cost $280 million, and a big chunk of that funding has already been approved. Five days later, VIA is finally talking about what's next.

"We're with VIA and we're damn proud of it," VIA board chairman Alex Briseno says. With employees at his side for support, he expressed his disappointment that streetcars won't be rolling through downtown San Antonio. "We still think streetcar is a good project," Briseno says.

TxDOT already committed $92 million to transportation projects in Bexar County - money VIA planned to spend on streetcars. Now, Briseno says VIA is working on proposals to use that money on its bus routes.

"I was driving down the street the other day and saw a number of senior citizens waiting in the hot sun to catch a bus," Briseno says. "Not even a bench to sit on. We need to start investing in that. We need to take care of our core riders."

And those core riders say they have some ideas.

"Park benches for the spots on the road when it gets hot," one rider says.

"On the daily bus routes, on the daily routes," another says.

News 4 asked Briseno how much money the transit system has already poured into the failed streetcar.

"Seventeen-point-two million to get from where we were seven years ago to where we are today," Briseno says.

Greg Brockhouse with the Streetcar Vote Coalition stopped short of calling that a waste of taxpayer money, but did say it could have been used differently.

"That's a lot of streets, roads and sidewalks in the city of San Antonio that could have been fixed," Brockhouse says.

VIA says the $17.2 million investment gave us a very detailed plan on building streetcars.

Briseno says the plan will still work in two or three years if public opinion changes.