Streetcar fund swap irks critics

MPO Board votes to swap funds to avoid legal challenges

By Nicole Perez - Executive Producer
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The San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Monday to swap funds between Bexar County and the Texas Department of Transportation in an effort to clear up some legal questions surrounding the funding of street cars in downtown San Antonio.

But the action taken by the MPO board left some streetcar critics upset.

Dick Slife is one of those critics.

He said he can't understand why local politicians are so fixated on putting streetcars in downtown San Antonio. He said streetcars will end up costing tax payers more money.

"They are flying in the face of economic reason," Slife said. "VIA's plan to switch street cars for buses in downtown will cost $790 million more in tax subsidies than if VIA provided the same service with a bus."

Slife and other streetcar opponents spoke out at a MPO board meeting Monday afternoon.

The opponents were against the board's plan to shift $92 million in funding for the streetcar program from the county's sales tax supported Advanced Transportation District to TxDOT, who, in turn, will give the county $92 million from its Texas Mobility Fund, which will be invested in downtown transportation. T

he ADT money will now be used to fund work on Loop 1604.

While the swap was designed to clear up legal questions surrounding the use of the ADT money to fund streetcars, it had some opponents calling the move money laundering.

"We understand that subsidizing bus transit for people who have to depend on public transportation is worthwhile, but spending that much money to subsidize streetcars that only benefit developers and politicians, that's perverse," Slife said, adding the money could have been better spent fixing up local roads. "That money should be used instead to leverage state dollars for road projects and $92 million in ATD funds would bring in some $368 million of state funds."

Jeffrey Arndt, interim president and CEO for VIA, bristled at the allegation of money laundering by streetcar opponents.

He said the fund swap is perfectly legal and results in no additional funding from tax dollars. Arndt added the money is already set aside -- the source of funding is simply changing.

"Money laundering happens in the dark (and) clearly this is not in the dark," Arndt said. "In order to maintain our schedule and avoid litigation, which can slow you down, we have reached an agreement between Bexar County, VIA and TxDOT  to swap the funds between Bexar County and TxDOT."

Now that the most recent hurdle has been crossed, VIA said they can continue the planning phase of the street car project.

They expect to be able to start using the $92 million by the start of the next fiscal year this fall.

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