Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) approved $63 million in congestion mitigation and air quality improvement projects at its Monday meeting.
More than $60 million in federal funding was made available to Bexar County after the Environmental Protection Agency found its air quality to be in non-attainment, or too polluted for EPA standards, last July.
More than $19 million will go to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for intelligent signage, improving State Highway 16 in Helotes, traffic incident training, and safety service patrol. VIA Metropolitan Transit received more than $20 million to swap out some of its diesel buses for compressed natural gas vehicles and $10 million to improve bus frequency.
The City of San Antonio, City of Leon Valley, TxDOT, University of Texas at San Antonio, and VIA all submitted applications to AAMPO for the air quality funding. Of the 28 proposed projects, the planning organization voted to fund 12 from San Antonio, TxDOT, UTSA, and VIA.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said she was glad to see some projects promoting non-single occupancy vehicles received funding. She pointed specifically toward the $6 million allocated toward building a cycle track at the South Texas Medical Center, $750,000 to fund San Antonio’s transportation demand management system, and $339,000 toward making UTSA more walkable.
“I’m excited to see some of these new types of projects funded by the MPO,” she said. “I wish we had more funding to go further.”
The City of San Antonio originally requested funding for five bike projects, including updating the City’s Bicycle Master Plan. Sandoval said she thinks there needs to be more bicycle infrastructure in place to encourage others to take up alternatives to driving.
“It’s important for us to find and at least have a few models out there in our area that demonstrate how cycling can be safe and a viable option,” she said. “And us is not just the MPO – it’s everyone involved in transportation planning. It’s important for there to be models to show that alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles are viable and safe.”
AAMPO Deputy Director Jeanne Geiger explained that the proposed projects were scored according to a model that calculated emissions reductions, and bike projects don’t score many points.
“You would probably have to have a pretty significant mode shift from vehicles to bicycles to see emissions reductions,” she said.
The organization also reelected Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff as AAMPO board chair and voted for Comal County Commissioner Kevin Webb to serve his first term as vice chair. Former Councilman Rey Saldaña previously served as vice chair. Sandoval was also nominated as a vice chair candidate but fell a couple of votes short in an 11-8 vote with one abstention.
Board members toyed with creating a second vice chair position to avoid future conflicts over ensuring rural areas and San Antonio have voices in leadership positions. Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley, who was represented by a substitute at Monday’s meeting, urged the board to consider changing the bylaws to add a second chair. VIA board Vice Chair and AAMPO board member Bob Comeaux said he would support that change.
Wolff said the board intends to come up with an election process that members can agree on for fair representation. Before the other counties joined the organization, Bexar County had fallen in the rankings of the largest MPOs. AAMPO now consists of Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe, and a portion of Kendall County.
“In the past, it was easy to switch [leadership roles] back and forth between county and city,” Wolff said. “We added rural counties in 2015. It took years of cajoling and pleading to get them to come in.”
Sandoval said the board should have anticipated discussion around the chair and vice chair positions after the MPO expanded.
“It’s really a discussion we should have had before we found ourselves here,” she said.
Webb pledged to work harder to understand the perspective of nonrural board members and to alleviate any concerns they have about his priorities.
“I’m a consensus builder,” Webb said. “When there are issues that don’t necessarily pertain to the rural community, I’m going to come to the people that need those things to understand and go forward. [Sandoval is] going to be my first phone call on a lot of issues.”