Wednesday, April 28, 2010

VIA seeks new way to fund streetcars

Looks like VIA is planning to take this another route. This is good as it might get more support since both routes are now going to be put down simultaneously. It's good to see VIA really pushing for these funds, it seems as if streetscars will finally be a reality in San Antonio in the near future.

By Josh Baugh - Express-News
Web Posted: 04/28/2010 12:00 CDT

VIA Metropolitan Transit's board of trustees voted Tuesday to spike a federal grant application for up to $25 million because it could have ended up costing the agency and its partners — the city and Bexar County — more money to build a streetcar system in the long run.
Instead, the board directed VIA staff to seek federal funding through the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts and Small Starts program, which allows for larger amounts of federal funding.

Using the Small Starts program, VIA would move away from its controversial decision to build only a north-south streetcar route along Broadway and South Alamo as its first-phase project.

With Small Starts funding, VIA would be able to build both north-south and east-west routes in its first phase of construction.

“The true upside of the Small Starts process is that we'd be able, with the same amount of local money, to do both projects,” said Keith Parker, VIA's president and CEO.

Board Chairman Henry Muñoz said this change in funding strategy could put to rest pointed questions about why the north-south route would come first.

Kevin O'Neill, VIA's chief lobbyist in Washington, told the VIA board Tuesday that the agency stood little chance of receiving the full $25 million in its grant application, and the difference between that amount and what VIA were to receive would have to be covered locally.

Also, agencies that receive funds from that “urban circulator” grant would be unable to receive any more federal funding for the project, he said.

“The key thing we can't emphasize enough — if we succeed — we may get significantly less than the $25 million,” he said. “The urban circulator program is a federal funding dead end.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why S.A. Needs Streetcars

Limitations of Our Existing Transit System:

• Bus: The existing Via Metro Bus system does an excellent job of providing access to downtown and other regional employment centers, but it does not always meet the needs of those traveling within the Downtown District, and it is not meant to spur economic development. In addition, many bus routes traverse corridors that have waited decades for the economic development and revitalization that can be achieved using rail lines.
• Rubber-Tire Streetcar: The existing Streetcar system addresses some of these gaps but is mostly tourist and visitor serving, which reduces their effectiveness. A rail line along land that is ready for development, such as Broadway, can open the opportunity for San Antonio’s newest neighborhood, River North, to come alive and spur the other surrounding neighborhoods.

Streetcars Offer Many Benefits:

Cities around the world have greatly benefited from streetcar systems, which have eased traffic congestion, reduced air pollution from automobiles and spurred economic development. S.A. could too. Streetcars offer the following benefits:
• Streetcar lines are much cheaper to build than subway lines and cheaper to operate and maintain than bus lines.
• Streetcars can carry more riders than buses.
• Streetcars provide a smooth, comfortable ride and are much quieter than buses.
• Because streetcars run on electricity rather than gas, they do not emit air pollution at street level as buses do. And with diesel and natural gas prices expected to increase in the future, electric streetcars will be cheaper to power than buses.
• Streetcar lines in other cities have demonstrated their ability to promote economic development and neighborhood revitalization along their routes.
• Streetcars can draw more people out of their cars and onto transit than buses.