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San Antonio - May 2012

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San Antonio — Funding Controversy

May 2012

San Antonio is planning a modern streetcar system but there is controversy over how Bexar County should pay for its share of the project, WOAI Television reports. The county had promised voters that sales tax funds they approved in 2004 for road projects would not be used for light rail. But County Judge Nelson Wolff says streetcars and light rail are not the same thing. (In Texas, a "county judge" is a post somewhat similar to chairman of a county board of supervisors or county commission in other states.)

The streetcar project is being modeled after Portland, Oregon's successful line, which has been popular with tourists and locals and is credited with revitalizing the downtown neighborhoods through which it passes.

Wolff says the greatest benefit is that streetcars encourage people and businesses to move to be along the line. He points to new apartment buildings along Broadway north of Downtown, and claims developers are building them partly in anticipation of the streetcar line.

VIA, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County have all agreed to pitch in for the project. But for its part, Bexar County wants to use $92 million of Advanced Transportation District funds. That's money raised by a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2004. Voters were told the money would NOT be used for toll roads or a light-rail project.

However, Nelson Wolff is adamant that streetcars and light-rail are not the same thing. Wolff responded to WOAI, "No, no. It is rail. Let's put it that way. But the streetcar systems are more of a Downtown, inner-city, smaller system -- totally different than a light-rail system."

Wolff and other streetcar supporters claim San Antonio is the only major U.S. city that hasn't started on a transportation system that includes rail. They say the streetcar will help qualify San Antonio for federal money to expand the rail system to other parts of the city in coming years.

It could all be derailed, however, by a lawsuit over the funding issue, or the Attorney General's ruling, which is expected by early fall.


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