Funding defended in streetcar proposal

Defenders ask VIA: Where is the money?

SAN ANTONIO – A day after a huge streetcar proposal was approved by board members, VIA Metropolitan Transit President/CEO Jeffrey Arndt said the funding gap in the project will be filled by the federal government.

Before that vote Tuesday evening to approve a $280 million streetcar project, VIA board members got an earful from those opposed to the project.

"You often hear of the Alamodome being thought of as a white elephant," an unidentified man said. "This project is an entire herd of elephants."

Another man referenced two previous elections where San Antonio residents voted down a light rail plan for the city.

"We voted against this and yet it is still shoved down our throats," the man said.

Some residents also question the math in the proposal: a $280 million system with $210 million on-hand leaves $70 million unaccounted for. Cost overruns at the beginning of a project can account for 30 percent more and could be as high as $84 million.

But Arndt is sure the funding will be there.

"We know what we have, we know how we would get to the next step, we know that the amount that we would be asking for in the next step is within common practice," Arndt said.

The Defenders asked Arndt to account for the missing money. He says the federal government would provide the money.

"The federal government typically matches rail projects at 50/50," Arndt said. "So if you took that perspective, if we have $200 million the federal government, it would be reasonable to presume, could look at another $200 million."

Even if the federal government does not provide a penny, Arndt said VIA could build a fully functioning partial system with the money they have.

"We have enough to build a successful segment of our overall system," Arndt said. "We have $200 million to $210 million, which is a tremendous first step in that process."

He compared the streetcar project to the construction of the interchange at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, which is only partially completed. He said while that is the case it is still being enjoyed by commuters

The next step for the streetcar system: environmental clearance and preliminary engineering. Those steps will further refine how much money it will cost.

The first segment of the streetcar route is expected to be operational in 2017. Each year it will cost VIA $8.5 million to operate the streetcars.

Riders' fares will offset that cost. VIA estimates 1.4 million riders will hop on board each year.

For a list of recent stories Brian Mylar has done, click here.