Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
After more than two hours of discussion, the citizen committee tasked with divvying up $450 million in bond money directed at streets, bridges, and sidewalks voted overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining funding for “transformational” citywide projects like the Hardberger Park land bridge and improvements on a three-mile stretch of Broadway Street, the emerging cultural and business corridor.
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, City Council will consider five lists of recommendations, one from each citizen bond committee, before it votes Thursday, Jan. 19 on the entire $850 million 2017 Municipal Bond. Voters will make the final call on the package during the City election in May 2017.
The final meeting of the citizen committee process will take place Thursday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Central Library.
“I do understand those that were against it,” said former Mayor Phil Hardberger. “I think they’re taking the short view because they want to get their streets fixed. I understand that – I want my own streets fixed – but you must have a balance when you’re allocating huge amounts of money like this.”
About 70%, or $594 million of the $850 million bond will be spent on basic infrastructure needs like streets, bridges, drainage, and sidewalks across the city.
The Parks and Recreation Committee allocated $5.5 million to the land bridge last week after it voted to take $2 million away from the project to fund improvements to McAllister Park. Despite this decrease in funding, the project is still viable, said Mike Frisbie, director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department. At least $10 million in private funds will be raised by the Hardberger Park Conservancy, Hardberger said, to complete the $23 million land bridge by 2018.
“Philanthropists always find their money,” said District 9 representative Patty Gibbons, who suggested that the $7.5 million be split up equally among the 10 districts – $750,000 each.
The City could fix up about two blocks of a four-lane thoroughfare for $750,000, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said, highlighting the greater impact that can be achieved when large, citywide projects are funded.
Only nine out of the 30 committee members voted in favor of defunding the land bridge.
As the biggest line item in the streets bond list, the $43 million Broadway Street project was also targeted, this time by District 10 representative Clayton Perry.
“We’re trying to make plans to accommodate additional growth (and population) but here we’re taking a major thoroughfare … and reducing (vehicle lanes) from six to four,” Perry said, noting that the Broadway corridor is not one identified in the SA Tomorrow Multimodal Transportation Plan.
But that’s because plans to “develop and implement a complete street concept to include roadway reconstruction, curbs, sidewalks, driveway approaches, bicycle amenities, lighting, drainage and traffic improvements” on Broadway Street from Hildebrand Avenue to Houston Street downtown are already underway.
“Other corridors need to take the steps that Broadway already has,” Frisbie said.
According to the City’s projections, the increased traffic that will come to the thoroughfare will come in the form of more pedestrians, cyclists, and commuters/visitors using mass transit, he added.
Perry’s motion received only five votes.
“This sends a very strong message to City Council that these projects are worthy of funding,” said Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni.
DiGiovanni sat with others in support of multiple projects in San Antonio’s urban core including Broadway, Zona Cultural, and Hemisfair street projects.
About 21% of the total bond are dedicated to downtown projects, Sculley pointed out at the beginning of the meeting.
“Downtown is everyone’s downtown, not just District 1 or (its) residents’,” Sculley said. “The bond program allows us to focus on those larger projects that we cannot accomplish in the annual budget.”
Tuesday’s vote reversed an earlier proposal that would have removed $2 million from the $9 million New Braunfels Avenue project to fund improvements near Fort Sam Houston. That $2 million will instead come from a Rittiman Road overpass project.
Overall, there were $19 million in changes made to the bond list by the committee, and six projects were added as a result of community and committee input. None of the changes involved any district “taking” money from another.