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Public Sees VIA's New East-West Streetcar Routes

VIA has officially unveiled a proposed streetcar route that would run east-west along the Market and Commerce Street corridors downtown.

The route, which also includes a Cesar Chavez option, was popular with many people. VIA’s Chief Engagement Officer, and former congressman, Charlie Gonzalez, said the plans knocked off the table now are routes VIA couldn’t ignore: one that passed the Alamo and another at Hemisfair Park.

The routes were unveiled at a public input meeting, which have become regular occurences for the transportation authority. San Antonio resident Chris Carson seemed to like the plans.

"I think it would really facilitate...getting a lot of people moving back and forth,” he said.

The writing is on the wall – or at least the large presentation-style notepads set up around the meeting room at Temple Beth-El Tuesday night. That’s where people gathered to give their input on the new plans. With markers in hand, some people spelled out their troubles with the streetcar plans, and many offered praise. Gonzalez promised during the presentation that the board and his bosses are reading the comments and making adjustments accordingly.

"We live in San Antonio. If Chicago, Phoenix and LA can do it, we can do it here in TX," read one.

Gus Martinez wrote his comment in the form of a question: "If the project will merely serve downtown and the majority of the population lives outside of downtown, how does this economically benefit the locals and positively service them?" he asked.

VIA has $210 million on hand for the project. More, if needed, could come from federal sources, according to VIA's Chief Development Officer, Brian Buchanan. Buchanan says that's why VIA president Jeff Arndt was in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Arndt and other leaders, including Mayor Julian Castro, talked up San Antonio's multi-modal ideas to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Tuesday afternoon, Buchanan, met TPR outside the Grand Hyatt and Convention Center to talk about the Market Street route that is proposed.

"It kind of comes through the central part of downtown; services a lot of the existing business, a lot of the future growth here in San Antonio," Buchanan explained, noting the expansion of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center is one of the major considerations to be given when thinking streetcar.

"[There are] several things we can do engineering-wise... but we've got to make sure it's cost-effective and fits in with all the other plans,” he said. “The Convention Center expansion is a major project for San Antonio and we want to make sure we're parcel to that project and [do] it well."

Another factor is the realignment of Market Street, which the city’s Capital Improvements Management Services department said will be ongoing until late next year. The project consists of, in part, moving the street to run parallel to Commerce Street, along with adding sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic signals and a storm drain system. The work is being done to move forward with the convention center expansion.

As buses roared by, Buchanan noted the streetcar stop to be put in place would be a three to five minute walk to the new convention center entrance to the east of the Hyatt. The building to the west will eventually come down.

Buchanan said the transformation seen in San Antonio in the last few years is impressive, but that it’s not over. It may not be for a long time, he said, but the streetcar project happens to be the current driving force behind this phase of improvements.

VIA is on schedule to begin the project design and environmental impact study sometime in August.