Today State Senator Wentworth announced his intention to request an opinion from the Attorney General of Texas concerning the use of Advanced Transportation District (ATD) funds for the San Antonio urban street car project. We are confident, based on the ballot language approved by the voters, that ATD funds can be used for such a project.
“The ATD was created to advance transportation,” said Henry Muñoz, Chairman of the VIA Board of Directors. “That’s what we have done since 2004 and will continue to do. Expenditures should be an appropriate mix of highway construction and multi modal funding and that’s what we are attempting to do.”
In November 2004, voters overwhelmingly approved at quarter of a cent sales tax for the ATD and for the following purposes specified in the ballot language:
· One-half (50%) of the tax proceeds will be used for projects including advanced transit services, operations, passenger amenities, equipment and other advanced transportation purposes.
· One-fourth (25%) would be used to construct, improve and maintain streets, sidewalks and related infrastructure designed to improve mobility, and other advanced transportation or mobility enhancement purposes within the District; and
· One-fourth (25%) would be used as the local share for state and federal grants for improved highways, transportation infrastructure designed to improve mobility, and other advanced transportation or mobility enhancement purposes within the District.
The $92 million for VIA’s short-term plan -- which includes multimodal centers, an urban street car system and two park-and-ride centers located in congested areas of the city -- clearly meets the description of related infrastructure improvements and advanced transportation purposes.
With the price of gasoline approaching $4 a gallon more people will seek public transportation. VIA has developed a comprehensive multi modal plan that includes a 5-year plan to get started. The Advanced Transportation District funds will be used toward street improvements, sidewalks, stations and other capital improvements for the urban, short-term plan.
To date, Bexar County has only used ATD dollars to fund capital and debt service costs associated with roads and capital infrastructure. Funds have been used to supplement state and federal dollars for over $100 million in local road improvements. The following list breaks out the projects and their respective cost:
Culebra Road: $23.385 million
Blanco Road: $31.125 million
Lower 1604: $28.75 million
FM 471: $18.59 million
Total: $101.85 million
Using the County’s AAA credit rating, the County issues $100 million in bonds to advance the construction costs of these projects on behalf of the state. By issuing the debt, the County is taking the risk that it will have to pay back as much as $76 million of the cost of these projects if the state funding in not made available. This $76 million in local, at-risk funding is above and beyond what was to be funded through the ATD sales tax.