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VIA spent roughly $17.2 million on failed streetcar plan

Transit company says expenditures not a total waste

SAN ANTONIO – From 2009 to today, VIA spent $17,192,178.17 to develop the plan for  a downtown modern streetcar that will not come to fruition in the near future after the San Antonio City Council voted to pull its funding for the project.

The city had committed to provide $32 million.

"The good news is its not all lost," said Charlie Gonzalez, Senior Vice President of Public Engagement for VIA.

According to an expenditure breakdown provided by VIA, the transit company spent $1,172,000 to conduct a study on a long range plan for the streetcar.

Payment to staff comprised $250,000 during that time.

From 2010 to today, VIA spent the biggest chunk of streetcar spending- $11,420,178.17- on "program management/preliminary engineering/environment."

"You're talking about all our public meetings and such, the analysis, the evaluation of the different routes," Gonzalez said. "As for the engineering, it was preliminary. Not like the heavy duty engineering we would have done prior to construction."

To conduct a feasibility study to determine if the streetcar would meet the transit needs of the city, VIA spent $1,850,000.

"That same information can be the basis to make other transit decisions that have nothing to do with rail," said Gonzalez.

But Gonzalez adds that the information gathered during the development of the streetcar plan will only remain usable for an estimated two to three years.

"Some of this information will remain relevant. But like all information, it becomes stale. And we can't work on stale information," he said. "That's why I'm saying it has a shelf life of relevancy for only a short period of time."

The first phase of the streetcar project would have cost an estimated $187 million to complete while the completion of the second phase would increase that total to $280 million.

The Texas Department of Transportation committed to provide $92 million toward the streetcar. That money will remain at VIA's disposal, says Gonzalez, because it can be used for other transit projects.

Currently, VIA has an estimated $300 million in unfunded projects.

"That was actually not earmarked specifically for the streetcar," he said. "We have many other projects that are out there. Bus rapid transit expansion from south side to the north side, Park and Ride at 1604 and Stone Oak, Park and Ride at Brooks City Base and what we have at the Alamo Dome- the Robert Thompson transit center and the west side transit center."

The money already spent on the streetcar project came from money VIA had in hand, said Gonzalez, plus less than $2 million in government funds.