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Growing Pains: San Antonio To Make First Financial Commitment To Lone Star Rail

San Antonio is expected to make its first financial commitment to building the Lone Star Rail line next week when city council members vote for a budget that includes $500,000 for the project.  

Texas Public Radio takes a look at the investment as part of "Growing Pains,"  our project exploring the impact of growth on our region.  

Transportation studies show Interstate 35 between Austin and San Antonio is one of the most congested stretches of highway in the country. For 20 years area planners have been talking about relieving some of the gridlock with a rail line that would extend from Georgetown, north of Austin, to Texas A&M’s campus in South San Antonio. 

The cities of Austin and San Marcos have already signed contracts pledging financial support.

During her election campaign San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor was reluctant to make that commitment. But Thursday, during a forum on regional growth, she said San Antonio’s next annual budget will include $500,000 to move forward with planning, though she’s still unsure about the long-term costs.

The proposed Lone Star corridor would stretch from Georgetown, north of Austin, to South San Antonio.

“Five-hundred thousand we can find.  The question is still for the future- what the operating expenses would be.  Those numbers are still being firmed up.  There’s a question mark there,” said Taylor

San Antonio Councilmember Joe Krier says the next step will be an agreement with Lone Star Rail on San Antonio’s financial commitment to the project for the next five years.

Krier says the Alamo City’s annual obligation could rise to $2 million during that initial contract, but there would be protections.

“My concern is that we make sure when we get that agreement that taxpayers in San Antonio are protected, in that we know exactly what we are paying; that there’s a locked-in cap on it, because a lot of these projects fail because of cost; and we need to have an exit ramp that would allow us to bail out if we want to. Lone Star has said they’re comfortable in doing that.”

Krier is a big fan of the rail line. In addition to taking vehicles off the road, he believes the train would make college more affordable for some of the 250,000 students who live along the corridor.

“If Lone Star Rail just picked up 5 percent of those (students) that would be 7,500 students a day.  It means a student can live one end of the corridor, attend school in another end of the corridor, and get back in the same day so they can stay at home with their parents,” Krier said.

Krier says city dollars will pay for engineering and administrative costs, and for financial negotiations with Union Pacific.  He says Lone Star representatives have assured him there are private investors willing to bankroll capital costs, which include the purchasing of rail cars.

Shelley Kofler is Texas Public Radio’s news director. She joined the San Antonio station in December 2014 and leads a growing staff that produces two weekly programs; a daily talk show, news features, reports and online content. Prior to TPR, Shelley served as the managing editor and news director at KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.