Hot debate in San Antonio over streetcar funding

A tax that took effect in 2005 could fund the project, despite what voters were allegedly promised

Transportation Management News www.mysanantonio.com February 07, 2012
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Foes of the planned San Antonio streetcar system said last Tuesday that county officials broke a promise with voters when they agreed to use advanced transportation district (ATD) funds to help fund the project, according to mysanantonio.com.

The group contends that multiple pieces of campaign literature used to promote the ATD tax in 2004 explicitly stated the money would not go toward light rail or toll roads––but the group says streetcars are, more or less, light rail.

The opponents said they could consider legal action if the county does not rescind its August vote to use its ATD funds for the streetcar system.

VIA Metropolitan Transit (San Antonio’s mass transit agency), Bexar County and the city of San Antonio agreed last fall to build a $190 million downtown streetcar system, part of a $239 public transit package funded by the three entities.

A 2004 VIA campaign brochure, labeled “Keep San Antonio in Motion!” explained why voters should approve a ¼-cent sales tax increase to fund creation of the ATD, which would pay for transportation projects for VIA, the city and the Texas Department of Transportation.

It also included a note in bold, italic type that “these funds would not be used for light rail or for projects on toll roads.”

The actual ballot included no reference to light rail or anything that would preclude the money from being applied to rail.

Voters approved creation of the ATD in November 2004.

Since the ATD tax took effect in April 2005, it has generated $269.9 million, according to information provided by VIA.

Of that, VIA spent $135 million on a range of projects, including express bus service, bus rapid transit, vanpool service, transit centers and part of the U.S. 281 superstreet.

The city spent $67.5 million on things such as audible countdown pedestrian signs, school zone pavement markings, sidewalk projects and video imaging vehicle detection systems.

TxDOT used $32.2 million on five highway and roadway projects.

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