HIgh speed light rail in Zurich. Photo by Flickr user Matthew Black.

By the year 2020, people in downtown San Antonio and Austin will be boarding the high speed LSTAR train for the 75-minute intercity ride instead of sitting in cars and trucks fighting traffic on a heavily-congested I-35 expressway.

The annual body count of 100 traffic fatalities along I-35 between the two cities will drop as will the 9,000 accidents that occur in the same space each year.

LSRD Presentation May 19 2014 express rail service

Dozens of freight trains each day will be rerouted to an Eastern bypass spur, where they will run at 79 mph versus the 20-plus miles an hour they now average.

The increased efficiency will make train freight more economical and greatly reduce truck congestion on the interstate. Reduced traffic and congestion should reduce carbon emissions. The new route will redirect dozens of trains that now carry cargo, some of it hazardous, each day through the heart of San Antonio and other urban areas.

Freight rail bypass LSRD Presentation May 19 2014

The improved direct rails will be reserved for fast passenger trains. Students in downtown San Marcos, shoppers at the outlet malls, and tubers and Wurstfest lovers in New Braunfels will hop the 90-minute “local.” Together, the express and locals will total 32 daily round trips from San Antonio to Georgetown. The service will be especially attractive to the 300,000 students and teachers at the 16 colleges and universities along the “education corridor.”

Estimated cost: $1.8 billion just to build it.

Not everyone will be commuting in trains. San Antonio’s suburban dwellers willing to carpool or pay tolls while commuting to and from Stone Oak and points north to the Alamo Quarry Market area and inner city jobs. They’ll travel on a widened Tx. 281, speeding along designated “managed lanes” while other drivers hold to the free lanes.

Estimated cost: $458 million just to build it.

"Before" photo and "after" rendering of what Tx. 281 from www.411on281.com
“Before” photo and “after” rendering of what Tx. 281 from www.411on281.com.

State transportation planners, meanwhile, expect to be farther along with their own massive project to establish high speed rail from the Dallas-Fort Worth area north to Oklahoma and south to San Antonio, with eventual spurs extending to Corpus Christi, Laredo and across the border to Monterrey on rails built for where Mexico’s anticipated high speed trains.

Estimated cost: Not available.

Those three transportation scenarios were presented as future realities by three different entities to the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the regional transportation authority, at its well-attended Monday meeting.

The three presentations were impressive in scope and detail and cost. As one presenter told MPO board members, “We are here today to help you visualize.”

See a comprehensive animation of the future Tx. 281 improvements at www.411on281.com.

“Visualization is one thing, realization is another,” quipped MPO chairman Ray Lopez, who is the City of San Antonio’s board representative and District 6 City Councilman. Lopez is one of several council members who has signaled his intention to seek the mayor’s office if Mayor Julián Castro is nominated by President Obama to become the next becomes Secretary of Housing & Urban Development as expected.

Lopez was, perhaps, dampening expectations after a lot of presentation pizzazz by rightfully noting that the rail projects lack funding, while the toll road project will require the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority to borrow at least $230 million, which it will repay with toll collections.

You can view all three presentations by clicking on the links below:

No one can say state, regional and local transportation authorities are failing to plan for a future integrated mass transit system, but no one can say where the funding will come from, either, except to say it will require federal, state, local and private sector funding and massive loan guarantees to make it happen.

*Featured/top image: HIgh speed light rail in Zurich. Photo by Flickr user Matthew Black.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor and publisher of the Rivard Report.