Funding discussions for the multi-billion dollar Lone Star Rail District (LSRD) project were pushed back to 2016 during a City Council meeting on Wednesday. The rail project is expected to move passengers between San Antonio and Austin, and provide a mass transit option to congested vehicle traffic on Interstate-35.
Texas A&M's Transportation Institute recently ranked I-35 just south of Austin as the worst highway congestion in the state.
The rail is expected to accommodate San Antonio’s growing population, which is expected to grow by 1.1 million people by 2040, according to projections used by the City in its SA Tomorrow planning initiative. The project would create a new mode of transportation for San Antonio and Austin, while also providing rail service to riders who reside in the fast-growing cities along I-35 corridor between the two major metro areas, including San Marcos, New Braunfels, and Schertz.
The briefing, scheduled for City Council's B-Session on Wednesday, was intended to update officeholders on the City's efforts to contribute to the project's planning.
“(The stakeholders) weren’t ready today, but it’s just postponed,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley said of the briefing. “We’re all working together.”
The City approved a $500,000 request from LSRD officials in September to be used toward the rail project’s planning. Bexar County Commissioners also approved a $500,000 contribution, but has not yet approved the necessary agreement with LSRD.
County Manager David L. Smith recently wrote a letter to LSRD Interim Executive Director Ross Milloy, noting that he would recommend that the Court renew project funding on a yearly basis, and urged them to represent County goals in the agreement which included “the conveyance of Union Pacific’s rail right-of-way, securing funding for the necessary rail bypass and garnering the support of area partners in funding the operation of rail facilities.”
VIA Metropolitan Transit also is expected to contribute $500,000 to the project, but has not made its contribution official.
“We felt that more time was needed to finalize a recommendation,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said of the stakeholders. City officials expect the briefing with Lone Star Rail to take place during the first quarter of 2016.
The council went on to discuss a recent disparity study, which found the number of City contracts awarded to businesses owned by men far outnumbered the contracts awarded to women-owned and minority-owned businesses.
City and VIA Metropolitan Transit Staff also briefed the council on the Advanced Transportation District (ATD) Tax allocation, and whether those funds could be diverted to VIA. Councilmember Rey Saldaña (D4) recently proposed that VIA use the tax to improve the number and speed of buses in San Antonio, citing his previous experiences riding the VIA bus.
Council members agreed that VIA needed more funding to improve public transportation efficiency, but several questioned whether allocating the City's ATD tax, which funds sidewalk projects and traffic stops, would be the best way to accomplish that goal.
"It's not an easy decision," Saldaña said. "This is the first inning of a long, long conversation that we're going to have."
*Top image: Council member Rey Saldaña (D5) discusses his his new transportation proposal. Photo by Lea Thompson.