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State leaders weigh in on streetcar failure

Legislators tell TxDOT to strip VIA of project funding

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SAN ANTONIO – In a joint letter to the Texas Transportation Commission Sen. Donna Campbell and Rep. Lyle Larson called on the Texas Department of Transportation to strip VIA of the $92 million it received to fund the streetcar project.

"We are requesting that the commission follow the city's lead and withdraw the $92 million in Texas Mobility Funds allocated to the project last year," the letter read. "Now that the project lacks the city's support, it's time to redirect these funds to help pay for projects that will have a major impact on mobility in the San Antonio area."

On Monday Mayor Ivy Taylor directed city staff to draft an ordinance for council consideration that would redirect the $32 million the city was going to put toward the $280 million streetcar project to other center city initiatives.

VIA officials said they plan to use the $92 million to fund other capital projects, but the director of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Sid Martinez, said that money is not yet VIA's to spend.

"That money is in TxDOT's hands because they are the ones who put it on the streetcar project," said Martinez. "At this point the commission does have control over that funding."

Martinez said VIA would have to officially scrap the project and request that the MPO remove it from their short- and long-range plans before the $92 million can be returned. Campbell and Larson believe the money should be spent on local highway projects.

"In particular, we recommend providing dollars for a traditional funding strategy to add capacity to U.S. Hwy 281 from Loop 1604 to Marshall Road, replacing the need for tolls," the pair said in their letter.

Local anti-toll activist and founder of Texas TURF, Terri Hall, said the idea is gaining support.

"We have been begging to get this corridor fixed without tolls for nearly a decade now. $92 million will go a long way toward buying down those toll lanes and getting us non-toll expansion on Highway 281," said Hall.

But Martinez said the $92 million would not be enough to eliminate toll lanes from the $450 million project.

"This $92 million could go there if that's what the (Texas Transportation Commission) chooses to do, and the county chooses to do, and the City chooses to do, However, that will not get us a full non-toll expressway from those same project limits," said Martinez.

Hall disagreed and said, "The dollars are there, they're just being misspent on other things."

TxDOT officials said the department would not comment on the issue until the streetcar project is officially dead.