When I was stuck in gridlocked traffic for 45 minutes on Loop 1604 the other day, the Latin phrase “sic transit” suddenly popped into my mind. It seemed apt. Roughly translated, “sic transit gloria mundi” means “all earthly things will pass.”
This time, there was little passing, or any kind of movement on the highway. Yet, a couple of decades ago, wasn’t 1604 billed as a super-solution? The hot new high-speed corridor was supposed to serve the expanding far North and West sides. Unfortunately, soon after 1604 was ready to fulfill its promise, traffic started backing up.
These days, the snarls persist.
Though in terms of nightmarish traffic, we’re still not as bad as Austin or Houston, but we’re getting there fast. Our congestion is getting sick, and it’s only getting worse.
We can’t expect much from the state or the feds. The Texas Department of Transportation can barely maintain the roads we have now. Federal highway funding is stretched thin. We can’t build roads fast enough to get ahead of the traffic jams.
Demographers predict an additional million folks – and half a million more cars — in this area by 2040. Imagine the bottlenecks, frustration, wasted time and engine exhaust from idling cars.
The good news: San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff are collaborating to promote strategic solutions. They call the project ConnectSA.
The better news: Both Wolff and Nirenberg have made it very clear the current plan includes no light rail. Period. Their insistence is eminently practical. Light rail has repeatedly mobilized passionate opponents. In this town, light rail is a political third rail.
VIA Metropolitan Transit’s Vision 2040 plan, the heart of the ConnectSA initiative, looks like a positive, pragmatic program. It’s not the end-all, but it’s a start. The idea centers on multiple potential “high-speed transit” corridors from Stone Oak, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the South Texas Medical Center to San Antonio International Airport, Texas A&M University at San Antonio, Brooks and more. It proposes designated lanes in existing roads to move additional people faster and more efficiently.
Buses alone won’t do the trick – even cool new conveyances such as VIA’s Primo service. Connectivity is the key. You must have options connecting riders from transit centers to individual destinations. Zipcar, Uber, Lyft, taxis, bike-share systems, private minibuses … there’s a wide range of possible connectors. Better traffic-light synchronization could help. So could traffic sensors embedded in “smart roads.” Technology is leading the way.
Money will be an issue, and it could be a roadblock. VIA needs more than it’s currently getting from sales taxes or Advanced Transportation District funds. Nirenberg has also suggested moving some city budget items to future bond programs, to free up more dollars for transportation. Here again, creative leadership seeks innovative solutions.
Fully developing a politically viable plan, and then selling it to voters, will take a lot of smart folks working together. If they can’t figure out how to include and engage the community, from business leaders to daily drivers, it will stall. I’m hoping they can utilize ConnectSA. Then, maybe driving conditions will start to improve on the road to San Antonio’s future.