VIA board chair: 'Disappointed but optimistic'

Streetcar project put off pending Aug. 25 vote

SAN ANTONIO – On the job as VIA board chair for five months, it fell on former San Antonio City Manager Alex Briseno to put off the transit company's controversial streetcar project, pending an Aug. 25 vote by its board members.

Briseno said he is "disappointed but optimistic."

His announcement Friday, with many of VIA's 2,000 employees as a backdrop, came within days of the city of San Antonio withdrawing its $35 million share of the project due to lack of public support.  

VIA had planned on streetcars running through downtown San Antonio.

"We're going to continue to move forward because we have a plan," Briseno said.

He said VIA's existing 2035 Long Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan will stand to benefit from nearly $200 million in remaining streetcar funds.

Briseno said for instance, $92 million in Texas Department of Transportation funds can now be put toward park-and-ride facilities at Stone Oak Parkway and Highway 281 and Brooks City-Base, as well as adding Primo bus routes, such as Brooks to the Medical Center.

He also said VIA also will be able to speed up projects that were delayed, such as the $19.5 million parking garage at Stone Oak Parkway and Highway 281.

But Briseno said VIA is not giving up on streetcars.

"We're going to collaborate, work with the city, work with the country and other transportation planning agencies, and collaborate with the community," Briseno said in hopes of coming up with a streetcar plan the public will accept. "We need to do a better job of communicating the need. We think the value is still there."

Organized opposition led to a successful petition drive with more than 26,000 signatures calling for a vote on the issue, but still needs further City Council action.

Greg Brockhouse, of the Streetcar Vote Coalition, said VIA's decision to defer its project is a "half-hearted victory."

He said his group still wants the public to be able to vote on any future streetcar projects.

"VIA listened and we're grateful for that, so we're going to have to put those tax dollars back to good use," Brockhouse said.