VIA Metropolitan Transit trustees gave no sense at a streetcar workshop Tuesday that they will abandon the rail plan, despite a request by state Rep. Lyle Larson to do so.
Trustee Mary Briseno, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairman Henry Munoz III and Vice Chairman Rick Pych, specifically referenced Larson's written request to VIA to either delay or shelve the streetcar plan.
Larson, a longtime opponent of the plan, repeated his opposition after VIA planners last week recommended building a 5.9 mile, $280 million streetcar system that would cost $70 million more than what VIA currently has to spend.
The board could vote on the plan Sept. 24. Five of the 10 VIA trustees, one seat remains vacant, attended Tuesday's meeting.
Briseno addressed two issues mentioned in Larson's letter, including his insistence that VIA should invest in buses rather than streetcar because bus routes can be more easily changed than rail. She said that "assumes that flexibility is good." And she objected to his comparison of the San Antonio project to a commuter rail line in Austin.
"I just want to be sure that as we move forward on this project that we are aggressive about putting misinformation to rest," Briseno said.
VIA Chief Development Officer Brian Buchanan said "a permanent transportation structure is warranted" downtown, because it will complement continued investments in the inner city. He also said it can help reduce downtown bus traffic.
In his letter, Larson also referenced what he called Austin's streetcar line.
But "Austin did not build a streetcar," Buchanan said. Austin's public transit agency operates a 32-mile commuter rail line.
In a response to Larson Tuesday, VIA noted the streetcar has received support from the county and city, spent a year spent studying the routes, and involved the public in the process.
VIA's letter says the streetcar isn't just for downtown but one that "inures to the benefit and economic well-being of the entire city."
"Cities with streetcar systems have seen the promises of such systems unfold," the letter stated.
VIA planners also emphasized that the streetcar system doesn't have to be built at once. Most likely, the project will be constructed in phases. By having a plan in place, planners said, VIA has a better chance of securing federal funding, while also defining what it hopes to build in the future.
VIA trustees also now must disclose whether they have any potential conflicts of interest with the proposed routes. So far, Munoz and Katherine Thompson-Garcia are the only trustees who have filed an affidavit recusing themselves from the streetcar decision.
Munoz is a partner in a company that owns a building between two potential streetcar lines on the East Side. VIA planners recommended the route farther away from the property. He also said he has been cleared of any conflict by an ethics attorney, but decided to recuse himself so as not to cloud the decision-making process.
Thompson-Garcia works for United Way on South Alamo Street just south of Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Under the recommended proposal, the streetcar line would run on Cesar Chavez, so Thompson-Garca was advised her employment so close to the line could qualify as a conflict.
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