San Antonio – VIA Metropolitan Transit is moving forward with plans for a North-South corridor for a new type of transportation for the city, but it’s unclear when more routes could follow.
The Biden administration last week recommended $158 million worth of federal funding for VIA’s plans for a North-South Advanced Rapid Transit (ART) corridor from the airport to the Mission Concepcion area. That would cover nearly half of the $320 million price tag required to set up the line, putting the project with VIA’s reach.
ART is essentially large buses, typically running in designated lanes. With a new bus arriving every 10 to 15 minutes, and riders paying before they get on, VIA officials say it offers the benefits of a rail line at a lower cost.
VIA officials told council members during a briefing on Wednesday that riders could start using the ART corridor sometime in 2027.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, though, urged VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt to move more quickly if possible.
“Obviously, there’s some approvals that need to take place in between now and then. But I would encourage you, if not push you, to try to meet or beat that timeline because the clock has been ticking on transit in San Antonio for the better part of our lifetime,” Nirenberg said.
Prior to the pandemic, Nirenberg had championed switching a 1/8 cent sales tax from funding development of the city’s greenway trail system and an aquifer protection program, over to funding mass transit through the Advanced Transportation District.
When COVID-19 hit the city, though, transportation issues took a back seat. But the city and VIA ultimately worked out a plan to use the tax first for a workforce development program before sending it to the ATD.
Voters agreed to the plan in the November 2020 election.
The sales tax, which will start collecting money for the ATD beginning in 2026, will be used to secure a federal loan to finance a $105.3 million chunk of the project. The remaining $56.7 million needed for the project will come from VIA project funds.
Arndt said VIA would like to begin working on an East-West ART corridor, roughly around Commerce and Houston Streets, as soon as possible, but the agency needs to identify funding first. The federal government would likely be willing to help fund the second corridor, he said, but only if VIA can find additional funding to throw in, too.
“Because federal government won’t give you their part if you don’t have your part,” Arndt told reporters.
The sales tax money would help fund the operations of both corridors once they’re set up.