ConnectSA Reveals Framework for 21-Year Comprehensive Transportation Plan

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Former Mayor and ConnectSA Tri-Chair Henry Cisneros outlines the proposed framework for the transportation plan.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Former Mayor and ConnectSA Tri-Chair Henry Cisneros outlines the proposed framework for the transportation plan.

A preliminary draft of the city’s first comprehensive multimodal transportation plan calls for an estimated $1.3 billion in additional funding for projects and initiatives through 2025 and an additional $1.4 billion through 2030.

Leaders of ConnectSA, a nonprofit Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff formed to shepherd the plan’s creation, presented a preliminary draft Wednesday to the two officials, VIA Metropolitan Transit President and CEO Jeff Arndt, and other transportation leaders.

Click here to download the draft plan. ConnectSA will convene dozens of public and stakeholder input meetings over the next two to three months, former Mayor and ConnectSA Tri-Chair Henry Cisneros said, using the feedback to finalize a draft in May 2019.

“The community should be assured that this is a living document,” Nirenberg said. The draft is a “starting point.”

Nirenberg and Wolff gave ConnectSA, which formed earlier this year, a deadline of Dec. 21 to deliver recommendations for a plan and a way to fund it.

“Today is not the presentation of a plan,” Cisneros said. “[We’re] putting forward options, a vision, a framework.”

The draft outlines eight recommended goals and 10 possible funding mechanisms for the community to consider. Some of those funding mechanisms would have to be voter-approved, Cisneros said, while others can approved by City Council, County Commissioners, or other public bodies.

The draft looks at integrating almost all types of transit except rail, which was soundly rejected by voters in previous elections. The draft does not include toll roads.

“It’s very possible, and it is our thesis, is that San Antonio has jumped over the era of rail,” Cisneros said. “By waiting, new technologies have appeared that make it cheaper, make it easier to build new transportation systems … without rail.”

There are also 25 projects suggested in the draft that should be completed by 2025, including 200 miles of sidewalks, 40 miles of “micromobility” lanes for bikes and scooters, a universal app to pay for transportation fees, and an advanced rapid transit corridor (long buses traveling on dedicated, priority lanes) from South Loop 410 through downtown and north to Loop 1604.

The draft’s recommended goals include:

  • Leverage technology: All transportation solutions should leverage technology to make travel safer, more convenient, predictable, and accessible;
  • Manage congestion: While congestion will never be fully eliminated, steps can be taken that ease congestion by optimizing existing infrastructure and providing new options and services;
  • Connect to jobs: All citizens should be able to reach employment opportunities reliably and effectively;
  • Enhance access for residents: All residents of Bexar County should have access to a host of effective transportation options;
  • Provide more choices: Whether it be dedicated transit lanes, smart traffic signals, or new sidewalks, all identified projects should enhance mobility for all residents via all modes of travel;
  • Integrate mobility networks: Transportation options like Uber, Lyft, and bike share should work together to become seamless for users to complete their trips;
  • Promote sustainability: Solutions and projects should be identified that provide an environmentally and financially sustainable transportation network.

Roughly five out of the 10 potential funding sources will be needed implement the draft’s goals, Cisneros said. The draft identified the following possible revenue sources:

  • Reallocation of existing sales tax
    • Redirect existing sales tax within San Antonio when the Edwards Aquifer and Linear Creek tax expires.
    • Redirect the City’s share of the Advanced Transportation District.
  • General obligation bonds from both the City and Bexar County could set aside funding for ConnectSA projects.
  • Leverage funds
    • Utilize state or federal funds, wherever possible, to help deliver project funding.
    • Utilize public-private partnerships, wherever possible and appropriate, to help with project delivery.
    • Utilize Transportation Reinvestment Zones around key corridors to help provide funding for projects.
  • New revenue sources
    • Support the legislative request for additional $10 per vehicle per year registration fee in Bexar County to go to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority for non-toll projects.
    • Consider the creation of a Transportation User Fee, similar to other cities in Texas, to provide additional revenue for mobility projects.
    • Consider additional land use-related policies and fees that could generate revenue to support mobility projects.

ConnectSA recommends that the City dedicate just 50 percent of its 2022 and 2027 bonds to transportation, Cisneros said, compared to more than 70 percent in the 2018 bonds.

“It’s well within the practical realm of what can be done,” he said. “This is not a ‘pie in the sky’ plan. … It is a measured plan” in terms of goals and funding.

The plan also has a looser framework for what could be done from 2030 through 2040, but planning for that timeframe when it comes to transportation is tricky, he said, because technology surrounding transportation is always advancing.

The 21-year horizon of the plan may be a challenge politically, Nirenberg said, but far less of one if the community has a sense of ownership – and a vote – in the plan.

“Demonstrating confidence from the public when we start this effort is incredibly important,” he said. “It’s also necessary for certain elements to fund the plan. When the public speaks with one voice about improving our transportation system and they’re voting on this plan, that will give subsequent decision makers [elected officials] the authority and public approval to implement the plan.”

The San Antonio area is expected to grow by more than 1 million residents by 2040 and San Antonio’s relatively minor traffic congestion problems – compared to other Texas cities – will only get worse, Nirenberg said.

“We are ahead of the game and there’s no reason for us to be stuck in gridlock before we start our planning effort,” he said.

18 thoughts on “ConnectSA Reveals Framework for 21-Year Comprehensive Transportation Plan

  1. Wow, that’s one of the worst reports I’ve ever read. Who puts the key on a separate page from the map? And there are colors on the map that don’t actually match anything on the key. If I had to sum up what is in the report, it’s:
    Immediate improvements: more of the same for San Antonio, never ending expansion of highways to allow for continued sprawl that will detract from San Antonio’s tax base and be unsustainable environmentally and fiscally. I mean seriously, have these people not heard of induced demand. We’re basically begging people to live right outside city limits and dodge city taxes.
    Medium term: throw some sidewalks in there that are probably already putting San Antonio into non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. EVEN MORE HIGHWAY EXPANSIONS.
    Long term: It looks like they are finally getting serious about transit (pink) but it’s 10-20 years out, so it’ll likely never happen. Also, lots of light blue that isn’t even identified in the key.

  2. Concerned Citizen is correct on all points! I’m seeing a lot of really vague ideas and not a whole lot about getting people out of cars and making it safe for people to walk in this city. The solution to “We can’t build our way out of this” is “EVEN MORE HIGHWAY EXPANSIONS”? Really?

    Maybe instead we should build nothing and encourage people to work and patronize businesses close (as in within 30 minutes actual walking time on real sidewalks most direct route with protected crosswalks) to where they live. That 15-20 mile commute twice a day should be painful. You may not be paying city taxes out in BFE, but you should pay with your time. We have to break the cycle where the city keeps spreading while our existing neighborhoods decline. Yeah, that also means we need to focus on fixing our schools, specifically the de-facto income and ethnic segregation that’s been allowed to develop and persist here. It’s not a buses and highways solution but it’s part of the reason we’re so spread out and keep spreading. The development that has happened along and outside 1604 on the north and west edges since 1980 is a crime. We’ll never get that back.

    Instead of developing a single-payment system for Via, Uber, scooters, taxis, and whatever uninvented new technology that’s going to solve all our problems, why don’t we just remove fares from Via scheduled bus service completely? Line bus revenues don’t even come close to covering their operating expenses, it only covers about 10% of the actual cost. Via’s bills get paid mostly from sales tax revenue. So…make the service free and cover the difference with some of the money that would have gone toward highway expansions. If you’re going to offer bus service, at least make it GOOD bus service. Take buses off routes where they’re empty most of the time. Increase frequency on the busy routes and extend the hours of operation as much as possible. In the bad traffic spots, prioritize bus lanes over existing traffic lanes if needed. Create the conditions that are going to encourage density and walkability to develop naturally.

  3. So in reading this it basically says add more buses, add fancier bus like things, add more asphalt(lanes) and add bike lanes? That’s about it. Yep no need for rail there. Adding more lanes so you can put more and more cars on the road always works.

  4. “The San Antonio area is expected to grow by more than 1 million residents by 2040” — this density, which will lead directly to rising costs of living and scarcity leading to rising property taxes, fees, gentrification, displacement, burdens to our infrastructure, environment, air, and water resources, is exactly what the city considers “success”, as per their adopted long-range, built environment, SA Tomorrow plan.

    The city’s urban planning model facilitates & subsidizes this aggressive growth agenda, to become a metroplex as soon as possible. Natural growth & urbanization is one thing, but when city officials facilitate & subsidize this aggressive growth & their solutions to this manufactured congestion facing us, shouldn’t they defend their “vision” to the public by explaining their rationale? This has yet to be done.

      • You are only thinking of the built environment; there’s more to growth than what happens in our physical space. And, you left out the 600 lb. gorilla – the heavy subsidization of manufactured growth. This is irresponsible “planning”.

  5. Raiding the funding source for the highly successful Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan (EAPP) to pay for impervious pavement (roads, highways, sidewalks, sprawl) would be a major slap in the face to San Antonians who have consistently supported EAPP by consistently wide margins. Don’t do it. Find other funds elsewhere, and focus the plan more on pedestrian, bicycle, micro mobility and other transportation options and incentives that get us out of our cars. Leave the EAPP alone! There is still more work to be done to protect the “world class” Edwards Aquifer.

  6. Commendable start, although the maps were a little tough to interpret. Two observations.
    1) Good goals, but missing goal of flexibility to correct miscalculations — either outright mistakes or changes in the anticipated demand like the Spurs not playing in the dome or the airport relocating. I believe lack of flexibility is one reason public support was missing for committing to rail and toll road ideas.
    2) A couple ideas seem in conflict to me — Timing of lights would be lost to allowing priority buses to override signals and having everyone within 10-min of a stop would be lost to creating more distance between stops to shorten transit time.
    Looking forward to the plan maturing with all the inputs

  7. What I find interesting is that city leadership always taps the same people to lead these types of initiatives. Why don’t we tap into all of the millennial talent COSA has been “recruiting and investing in” to move away from these uninspired ideas?

  8. Traffic flow can be improved enormously with some creative thinking, and in fairly short order.
    1. Make use of the cameras installed on many traffic light arms around the city to control signal lights. Many lights are on timers that bear no relation to the flow of traffic. Countless thousands of hours are spent by drivers waiting at a red light at three corners while there is no traffic for the green. If there is no software to make these sunk cost cameras live, then budget early to write it.
    2. Install red light cameras. Running red light is rampant in town. An article in the Express-News today cites success in lowering traffic accidents in Leon Valley. Incidentally, Governor Abbott wants to ban the red light cameras and let police forces ticket red light runners. There are not enough policemen to begin to slow down red light runners.
    3. Make use of the transguide signs to educate drivers. Slogans to encourage use of turn indicators, to move to the right lane if being passed on the right, to enter and speed up to the flow of the traffic, etc.
    The city needs to overcome the mentality of no toll roads. Drivers use the roads, not someone who will perhaps pay through the sales tax re-allocation they propose. Drivers who object to tolls can find alternate routes. Taxing non-users to pay for roads contributes to ta something for nothing mentality that grips so many. Tolls are also another way of exacting revenue from those who live outside the jurisdiction (suburban cities and towns) but use the roads.)
    There are a lot of possibilities to improve what we have if people are willing to think outside the box.

  9. This report seriously lacks progressive thinking. Highway expansion is a solution of the 70’s/80’s and does nothing to get people out of cars and curb climate change. This plan lacks a commitment to a robust rapid transit system. It makes no connection between density and transit/walkability. I agree with Adrianna, get the fuddy duddies off the board and put some young leadership members with progressive, out of the box thinking on!

  10. The ConnectSA framework is a template for more sprawl and a wish-list for traffic engineers and construction companies. There is no mention of pollution or air quality, which should be a priority considering our costly failure to meet federal ozone standards. And the notion we have “jumped over the era of rail” is wishful thinking—we just haven’t reached it yet.

  11. Stop building when you don’t have the infrastructure to support it. (I.e.: don’t add hundreds of more apartments to a traffic pattern that is already overburdened.) Stop trying to be a metroplex on the cheap–it takes away any remaining charm from this city.

    Be foreword thinking when planning. Could planners not see that 281N and 1604 would need expansion when they approved all the building permits and zoning changes? Have some consideration for residents! The same ideas presented have been the same ideas presented in every discussion. I don’t see that any of these ideas will improve transportation for the average resident.

    I agree with a previous post…why are the same people whose leadership for decades created this situation the ones always ‘proposing’ or ‘studying’ or ‘creating a working group’ to fix the problem? Seriously COSA needs an infusion of new blood, fresh perspective. There is a perception that cronyism is rampant in COSA.

    Please do not come to voters for bonds or other funding until you have a plan where growth and infrastructure grow together, grow the economy to accommodate and support growth, work toward an educated/trained workforce so we have less economic segregation; growth in quality of life, not just quantity of population. Do not ask taxpayers to continue subsidizing your growth agenda when it negatively impacts them. Back to the drawing board…

  12. A comprehensive plan where the largest mass transit mover of people outside of automobiles is simply not addressed because we have supposedly and magically “jumped over the era of rail.” It’s a draft whose “thesis” from the outset is already nonsense.

    I guess we probably couldn’t have expected them to daringly suggest urban growth boundaries, or periphery network tolls, or resurrect the downtown streetcar, or draw out light rail lines, or prioritize truly mixed-use planning, or refocusing tax subsidies away from the unsustainably sprawling suburbs to a denser center, but to just hand-wave it all away with car-sharing apps, buses-by-another-name, and tweaking traffic signals is political window dressing for a city that has no realistic vision.

  13. Meanwhile, just 80 miles away, Austin was already at work on a progressive, and more realistic plan to address its urban transportation needs, which was approved by the city just two days prior to the release of San Antonio’s framework plan. It includes expansion of the Capitol rail system, construction of new passenger rail to the suburbs and inter-modal links to all transportation hubs. And it includes plans for a rail link between the airport and downtown. []

    San Antonio’s plan of action is for more roadways, more lanes, the addition of dedicated lanes for smart buses and cars on existing congested roadways–all to address population growth for 20 years from now. However, as history has shown–and as urban planners will tell you—such projects fail to meet current needs by the time they are completed.

    As other respondents have noted, it is time to eschew the input and recommendations of venerable civic leaders and seek new ideas and leadership.

  14. Let’s create a real commuter rail between SA and Austin by increasing the frequency of trains. The infrastructure is already there, and with some advertising/publicity the demand will undoubtedly arise.

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