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Old Posted Aug 2, 2009, 5:51 PM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is offline
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Streetcar to break ground in two to three years

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/tra...treetcars.html

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S.A. could roll into future on streetcars

PORTLAND, Ore. — Once 70 acres of deserted rail yards and contaminated land, the Pearl District, an inner-city neighborhood along this city’s busy streetcar line, has become one of the hottest places to live, work and play.

Officials hope to bring that same sort of transit — and revitalization — to the Alamo City as soon as possible.

In Portland, it didn’t happen by accident.

In the 1990s, driven by a plan to infuse the inner city with new residents, transit advocates drew up plans to link several districts by streetcar and encourage dense, walkable, mixed-use development designed around the rail line.

As it turns out, the little streetcar line — four miles from end to end — is an economic powerhouse, according to Portland officials. They say some $3.5 billion has been invested within two blocks of the streetcar line’s footprint. More than 10,000 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office space have been built in the same area.

San Antonio officials are looking to replicate that.

Henry Muñoz, VIA Metropolitan Transit’s board chairman, said he expects the agency to break ground in two or three years and will announce in the next month a citizens advisory committee to help guide the creation of a starter streetcar system.

“It’s something that could have potentially enormous impact on the city center of San Antonio,” he said.

Still, San Antonio leaders acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead.

The first major hurdle will be cobbling together funding. The Portland Streetcar line averaged $12.9 million per track mile to construct. And choosing a streetcar line’s path could become a heated political battle.

Streetcars run on tracks embedded in the road pavement and are powered by overhead electric lines. Because the tracks are flush with the street surface, cars and pedestrians can cross them at any point, unlike a rail line. San Antonio had streetcars until 1933.

Muñoz and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff were part of a delegation of local government and business leaders — from VIA, the mayor’s office and Silver Ventures, the owner of the Pearl Brewery — that went on a whirlwind fact-finding mission to Portland last week. Mayor Julián Castro was supposed to attend but didn’t because of illness.

The group spent Wednesday night and Thursday in meetings with people who made the streetcar line a reality. With its streetcar, light rail and commuter trains, Portland often plays host to delegates from other cities considering various transit models.

Streetcar visions

While the idea of streetcars in San Antonio is in its infancy, Muñoz envisions lines running both north-south and east-west, connecting some of the city’s great cultural centers, sports facilities and public institutions. From Mission San José, a line could run north, to the southern border of Alamo Heights. And a perpendicular line could run from the AT&T Center on the East Side to Our Lady of the Lake University on the West Side.

Muñoz said he’s uncertain how much could be built initially because of the expense.

During conversations in Portland, San Antonio leaders rattled off a number of key sites that potentially could be accessed by a streetcar system: Southtown, HemisFair Park, the Convention Center, the River Walk, the Alamo, Municipal Auditorium, Market Square, Museo Alameda del Smithsonian, several college campuses, the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Alamodome and even Fort Sam Houston.

Any site accessible by streetcar would stand to benefit from the line, including the Museo Alameda, for which Muñoz was a driving force, and the Pearl Brewery, whose owner had representatives on the Portland trip.

In a joint effort between VIA and the Downtown Alliance, the Inner-City Rail Circulator Study is under way as well.

The feasibility study, due to be released this fall, will help determine whether San Antonio can support a system, how much it would cost and where it would be aligned. But it’s clear that local officials aren’t waiting for the results to move forward on planning.

VIA also has been looking at a rapid-bus line from downtown to the Medical Center, but that wouldn’t happen until 2012.

Wolff, who long has supported bringing rail to San Antonio, believes a streetcar system would help revitalize the East and West sides. And it appears that Castro is on board, too.

Responding to the goal of breaking ground in two to three years, Castro chuckled.

“That’s (Nelson Wolff’s) swan song,” he said. “No, I feel good about it. It’s exciting to me — music to my ears.”

Castro said there’s growing enthusiasm in San Antonio for mass transit and renewal of the city’s core.

But whether the public would have a chance to vote on funding a starter system is an open question.

“I think that’s unclear because the financing isn’t clear,” Castro said. “It is clear that there’s going to have to be a significant investment from the public to make this happen. One way or another, the public will have input when it comes to expanding mass transit.”

That rail has been successful in Portland isn’t to say the process was easy. Portland Streetcar Executive Director Rick Gustafson said some neighborhoods were slow to accept increased density, a key component of a successful transit system. He also said funding is an enduring issue. Still, he’s optimistic for the Alamo City.

“San Antonio appears to have lined up a pretty strong political commitment to do this,” he said.

Muñoz said he believes a shift in thinking is under way.

The Downtown Alliance, which represents center-city property owners, has supported the idea of a streetcar system, and Wolff and Castro are proponents of improving transit.

Muñoz also has an ally leading the city’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees how federal transportation dollars are spent in Bexar County. Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, a strong rail proponent, was elected chairman of the MPO board just a few days before the delegation visited Portland.

The political will to build a streetcar line would be crucial in San Antonio, where “density” often is said pejoratively. Castro, who sees density as a positive rather than a negative, said he’s confident the council would support changing zoning laws to encourage transit-oriented development.

“San Antonio needs to embrace denser development to avoid continuous urban sprawl, to strengthen the urban core of the city,” he said.

Bankrolling streetcars

Financing is another key question, and one that lacks answers.

Muñoz, who spent a day before the Portland trip with congressmen in Washington, D.C., said he doesn’t expect there to be much federal funding for a starter streetcar line. However, some federal grant programs could help. There’s also the potential for VIA to take on debt for the first time in its history.

For Portland Streetcar, the roughly $103.2 million it took to build the track came from multiple sources.

The largest pots of money came from bonds backed by revenue generated from a small increase in rates at city parking garages and from tax increment financing. The third largest portion of funding — $19.4 million — came from the private sector through the use of a “local improvement district.”

Property owners in a district that enveloped the line voted to pay an additional one-time assessment on their property beyond their normal ad valorem taxes, though the amount wasn’t due all at once. Owner-occupied residences were exempt.

Wolff said he thinks a key to making the dollars work would be assigning the city’s last 1/8-cent sales tax to VIA. That equates to roughly $25 million annually, he said. Without it, the “funding is squishy,” he said.

“If we’re serious about addressing mass transit, that’s got to be a key revenue source,” Wolff said to Muñoz. “Y’all need to be thinking about that. Of course, you need the mayor’s support and my support.”

But landing that sales tax wouldn’t be easy because of competing interests, including advocates for tapping the revenue to bolster the city’s library system.

For Castro, who’s focused primarily on budget and energy discussions right now, the sales tax “is certainly a consideration.”

“There’s a general determination to look at different funding options,” he said.

New outlook

It’s clear there’s been a shift in thinking among local leaders, who in the past have advocated for light rail. They say a streetcar system, which is smaller in scale and cost, could prove to be a gateway to larger projects for San Antonio.

A starter system would allow people to “kick the tires” and get used to rail, which could lead to support for larger light rail and commuter lines that move more people longer distances.

In Portland — where people leave their cars parked and commute by bicycle, streetcar, light rail and commuter train — the streetcar line has been a strong tool for revitalizing the city’s core.

Homer Williams, a key developer in Portland’s hot inner-city neighborhoods, plainly told San Antonio leaders to “look at the streetcar like an economic engine.” High-density developments — major property-tax revenue producers — would pop up along the line and generate more money for taxing jurisdictions, he predicted. (A spike like that, Castro said Friday, could help revitalize the San Antonio Independent School District.)

“Over the next 20 years, cities that embrace this will flourish,” he said.

For now, San Antonio will remain the largest city in the country without rail. The notion makes Muñoz cringe, but he sees San Antonio at a crossroads.

“People recognize that we’re at a critical juncture for our city’s future,” he said. “We have to provide them with an environment that helps them shift their thinking. That’s the moment we’re living in today.”

Last edited by sirkingwilliam; Aug 2, 2009 at 7:39 PM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Aug 2, 2009, 7:13 PM
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2-3 years? How realistic is that?
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  #3  
Old Posted Aug 2, 2009, 7:40 PM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is offline
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I don't think they'd throw that out there if it wasn't realistic. With almost everyone on board, funding would be the only hurdle.
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Old Posted Aug 2, 2009, 10:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sirkingwilliam View Post
I don't think they'd throw that out there if it wasn't realistic. With almost everyone on board, funding would be the only hurdle.
Exactly. We are looking at roughly $20 million/mile for this. Even a small 5-mile system will likely cost over $100 million.

Don't get me wrong I love the idea and think it is worth it. This will make our downtown even more attractive and livable! This could spur some high rise condo developments! We might even see HEB decide to open a downtown market along the line?
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Old Posted Aug 3, 2009, 1:50 AM
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Originally Posted by tgannaway89 View Post
Exactly. We are looking at roughly $20 million/mile for this. Even a small 5-mile system will likely cost over $100 million.

Don't get me wrong I love the idea and think it is worth it. This will make our downtown even more attractive and livable! This could spur some high rise condo developments! We might even see HEB decide to open a downtown market along the line?
Might not be such a difficult task.
Well, just as an example, lets say that a 4-mile stretch (est, $80 mil) is what will be initiated (we will find out what the DTA study says soon.) Just as a starter, lets say Rosarios (Southtown) to Incarnate Word. I'm just using that as an example for the fact that you can maximize private funding because of increased private interests of developments and yet-to-be improved properties along that route. Who stands to gain from a Streetcar line on the Alamo/Broadway Line? Ed Cross, AT&T, Silver Ventures/Pearl, SAMA, Ft. Sam, McCombs, Witte, UIW, River North, and the CVB as a whole? I think that with those names in support of a Streetcar (of course the DTA is on board,) funding will be found.
I'm not a "find-funding-for-streetcar" guru, but I would think that the involvment of the Convention Center at any point could allow for funding from the hotel tax to be used, a stop near the river might allow funding from the River Foundation, theres $10mil from the Downtown Transportation Infrastructure Improvements from the 07-12 bond, could we use that? VIA tax of possibly $25mil. A stop along Broadway and Cunningham Gate for Fort Sam, could we then get some Federal Funds for traffic calming and infrastructure improvements?
A circulator of UTSA to Sunset Station/Alamodome would be 3.5 miles.
A circulator from Pearl to Houston St. along St. Mary's/Camden and Broadway would be less than 3 miles.
I don't know It doesn't seem absolutely impossible. I, of course, would love to see this happen in the next 3-5 years. Hell, I'd like to see it now. Believe me, if I had McComb-like funds, I sure would have a streetcar line (among other things) named after me.
I think momentum is slowly catching on. The next couple of years might surprise us all.
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Old Posted Aug 3, 2009, 3:08 AM
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Lightbulb

Many forget why the Portland Streetcar line is so much a success. TriMet doesn't charge anything to ride it. It's a free ride and mostly supported by developers along the corridor.

Looking at San Antonio, and where the developers are located, it's over 3 miles to AT&T Center from downtown through residential streets (Houston) or a cemetery (Commerce), a little too far for a streetcar and with little chances for redevelopment.

I can see going as far east as the Alamodome and the old Southern Pacific Terminal, through downtown, and west along Commerce and/or Buena Vista a short distance. You need some commercial plots along a corridor that could be redeveloped. There really aren't alot of through streets through downtown San Antonio that remain commercial far into the suburbs. Those that have commercial are no more dense than Fredricksburg, which will be getting BRT. I suggest that will be appropriate for the Commerce-Buena Vista, Laredo, and Broadway corridors too. Most dense commercial areas in San Antonio exists along I 410.

It might be better to just circle downtown San Antonio with a streetcar circulator using it to connect all the BRT corridors radiating out from downtown.

Last edited by electricron; Aug 3, 2009 at 3:28 AM.
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Old Posted Aug 3, 2009, 3:09 AM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is offline
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The fact that Kit Goldsbury is part of this with his Silver Ventures company (Pearl Brewery developer) is awesome because that man could fund the entire system if he wanted to, he's not but he'll definitely donate and be crucial to private fund raising with all his rich friends.


FYI, for those that don't know Kit is a billionaire.
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Old Posted Aug 3, 2009, 3:18 AM
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sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is offline
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I think a line to the at&t center would work if it went east on Commerce St.

St. Philip is between Sunset and the at&t center so there's that plus who's to say developers won't buy the cheap homes along Commerce and turn them into dense housing.
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Old Posted Aug 3, 2009, 10:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by electricron View Post
Many forget why the Portland Streetcar line is so much a success. TriMet doesn't charge anything to ride it. It's a free ride and mostly supported by developers along the corridor.
First off, it costs money to ride outside of Fareless Square: http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/fares.php

Secondly, Trimet assists monetarily, but is only a partner in the venture. The Streetcar system is largely operated and bankrolled by the City of Portland.

Quote:
2-3 years? How realistic is that?
Incredibly realistic. That's about the timeline for Seattle's Streetcar and its planning.

Construction-wise, it's about 3 weeks per block for double-tracking, 2 for single.
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