Expansive highways and automobiles have historically been the only efficient way to travel throughout the San Antonio. An above-ground rail system is the newest method through which San Antonio is hoping to modernize transportation.
As the nation’s largest city with a bus-only transit system, San Antonio’s municipal government has been working to alleviate the need for automobiles.
San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the United States. Since 1990, the population has grown from 1 million to more than 1.36 million. However, San Antonio’s public transportation system is struggling to keep up.
Initiatives such as the ‘B-Cycle’ program, which allows people to use bicycles downtown more frequently, have been implemented in the hopes of alleviating congestion.
This desire to create more comprehensive municipal transportation has spurred the move to construct a streetcar system in downtown San Antonio.
In January of 2010, the VIA Board of Trustees unanimously approved preliminary routes for the rail system under the project name Smart Way SA.
Smart Way SA has become the outlet with which VIA, along with the Downtown Alliance of San Antonio, has sought to expand innovation initiatives. The Lone Range Comprehensive Transportation Plan was established by Smart Way SA to study the feasibility of an inner-city rail streetcar system.
While the VIA board of trustees has not yet approved a final route, it is likely that the streetcar will run along Broadway, St. Mary’s and Navarro streets going north to south; and on Martin and Pecan and César E. Chávez Boulevard going east and west, along with connecting routes.
Not to be confused with a rail system, the streetcar system works by laying tracks on the ground that will carry around trolley cars. It is unclear how fast the streetcar will travel, but it will match metro speed limits. The streetcar project would cost approximately $280 million, and will have roughly six miles of track.
The high cost has sparked debate because VIA is one of the most underfunded public transit systems in Texas– a result of a .5 percent transit tax rate as opposed to a one percent tax rate seen in other cities. The VIA board of trustees believes federal and state grants can ensure that the San Antonio local government will not be paying the full amount.
As San Antonio continues to gain a higher population, the city faces congestion and a necessity to improve infrastructure.
Various ways of improving the transportation dilemma (more VIA buses, expanding highways and streets, building a light rail system) have also been proposed with mixed public support.
Even though the route plan can still be changed, some San Antonio residents feel uneasy about the proposed routes.
“The amount it would cost for the streetcar is not efficient, and it could take a long time for the cost to be offset by tourism. It would be better to use that money to improve the current transportation infrastructure,” stated Haley Garcia, a senior UTSA computer and electrical engineering student.