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Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Tuesday that no rail transportation options would be considered in efforts to formulate a new mass transit plan for San Antonio.
“It’s absolutely not a light rail plan,” Nirenberg said following an appearance with Wolff at a Tricentennial Commemorative Week event. “We’re beyond light rail. The world is beyond light rail.”
Nirenberg recently announced the formation of ConnectSA, a nonprofit intended to become the driving force behind a modern multimodal transportation system plan that could be presented to voters. Neither Nirenberg nor Wolff had previously provided details of what the plan would include, including cost estimates.
Nirenberg and Wolff indicated Tuesday that the mass transit system likely to be pursued in the coming months would resemble something closer to trackless trains that are equipped with rubber tires and use dedicated traffic lanes. Trackless technologies could be developed on the city’s existing roads, be scalable to ridership demands, be more cost effective and adjustable than installing rail, and also present an opportunity for the city to be an early user of advanced technology, Nirenberg said.
Passing up rail in favor of dedicated lanes also allows the city to adjust to rapidly changing technologies in transportation, such as driverless vehicles.
“What we’ve seen looking to the future … [the systems] don’t look like a bus,” Wolff said. “They look more like a train, but they’re trackless.”
Nirenberg said he hoped a mass transit proposal and accompanying funding mechanism would be brought to voters by May 2019. But he did not say how much such a proposal would be likely to cost.
The City previously considered implementing a downtown streetcar rail project in 2014 under former Mayor Julián Castro, but widespread opposition to the plan led Ivy Taylor, who succeeded Castro as mayor when he resigned to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet, to scrap the proposal and pull $32 million in City funding pledged to the project. Wolff voiced his support for her decision at the time.
At that time, many residents felt that the plan did not address the need for a comprehensive citywide transit plan because the streetcar was limited to the downtown area. The streetcar controversy led to a City Charter amendment, approved by voters in the May 2015 election, that requires a public vote on all rail projects involving the City. Voters may not have to weigh in on any new mass transit plan that doesn’t include rail components.
However, Nirenberg said he planned on bringing any proposal to a vote so that the project receives public approval.
“The mass transit piece of this will have a public vote, whether or not it’s required” Nirenberg said. “It’s so critically important that the public of San Antonio finally gets an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to something other than status quo.”