TxDOT to potentially fund streetcar plan
Opponents say it still violates promise to voters
An unlikely player has become part of the San Antonio streetcar debate.
"This is the first time that I know of that the Texas Department of Transportation has put that much money in public transit,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who helped foster the deal.
Once known as the Highway Department, TxDOT may soon be putting money towards San Antonio’s public transportation.
"Basically, it’s a different way of funding a project that is much needed in San Antonio," explained Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo.
It is different because of where the money is coming from.
The use of the Advanced Transportation District, or ATD, to partly pay for streetcars stirred up possible legal issues. The ATD is funded by a 1/4-cent sales tax, approved by voters.
Opposition argued that voters were assured that money would not be used for streetcars.
Announced Thursday morning by county leaders, that ATD money will now be used to pay for non-tolled lanes on Highway 281 and Loop 1604.
"We will take $92 million in ATD money and we will invest in U.S. 281 and Loop 1604,” said Henry Munoz, chairman of the VIA board.
In turn, TxDOT will take $92 million from their Texas Mobility Fund, and invest it San Antonio’s downtown transportation.
County leaders and VIA believed this was an ideal solution to funding the project and could eventually help to secure federal funding. They also argued that additional downtown transportation was a necessity.
Meanwhile, opposition believed it was only a way to get around the law and went against what voters wanted.
"It still violates the same promise they were violating before and while it gets them out of one set of legal problems, I think it creates another set of legal problems they are going to have to face,” said Jeff Judson, a staunch opponent of the streetcar plan and director of the Heartland Institute.
Judson also believed that TxDOT is overstepping its bounds.
"It’s not their role to do these money laundering schemes with local officials to try to bypass promises to voters,” said Judson.
TxDOT will vote on the issue Thursday in Dallas.
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