SAN ANTONIO – In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees approved a route for its modern streetcar project.
Known as ‘Alternative 6,' the route was the lone finalist of handful of choices. It will run north and south along Broadway, Navarro and St. Mary's streets.
The furthest western barrier will be Frio Street. East and west corridors will run along Pecan, Martin and Cesar Chavez.
The route was approved in a 6-0 vote. Three board members recused themselves from the vote citing conflicts of interest.
Trustees Steve Allison and Katherine Thompson-Garcia stepped down from the dais in the moments before the vote while Chair Henry Munoz recused himself prior and was not present during the meeting. Vice Chair Rick Pych was also absent.
The approved route was the longest route option but one VIA would serve the most riders - an estimated 1.4 million each year - and provide more options for future expansion.
The project will cost $280 million. VIA has $210 million on hand.
"Its a combination of VIA money, TxDOT money, county money, and the city of San Antonio," said Charlie Gonzalez, Chief of Public Engagement for VIA.
Gonzalez touts downtown economic growth as a benefit of the selected street car route, which many supporters of the project foresee as well.
"Convenient mobility with the opportunity for revitalization in downtown," said Richard Perez, CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, during public comment at Tuesday's board meeting. "As far as we're concerned, it's that simple, its that straight forward and its necessary for the citizens of this great city."
Meanwhile, others at the meeting made a last ditch effort to dissuade the board from approving the route.
Mark Kellman, a local architect, doubts The Alamo City can sustain a street car system.
"We can't wait five, ten years before people move downtown to support the rail car," Kellman said.
"You've got to remember that in the next few years we're going to have anywhere from 25 to 7,000 housing units - condos, apartments - that will be in the inner and outer downtown core," said Gonzalez. "I think that it will actually transform downtown. This is incredible."
The street car will cost $8.5 million annually to operate and riders' fares will help offset that cost.
With the route approval, VIA now moves into an ‘environmental assessment' phase that will likely take a year to complete as it looks at how the route will impact the area environmentally and any mitigation that needs to be done.
Construction will begin in two years and the first segment of the street car route is expected to be operational in 2017.