Which would you vote for — decent driving conditions or clean water?
That’s a question nobody wants to answer. It’s also one nobody should ask. Unfortunately, this query basically is what came across with the rollout of a campaign to convince voters to authorize shifting local sales-tax dough from aquifer protection to VIA Metropolitan Transit.
Here’s the deal: You’ve probably heard about Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s and other area politicos’ proposal asking voters to shift a 1/8-cent sales tax from the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program and development of greenbelt trails to VIA.
The levy quickly adds up to an estimated $40 million annually. Over the last 20 years or so, the money was used to buy about 160,000 acres of land over the aquifer, which supplies most of our water.
Hands down, the funding switcheroo was one of the most hotly debated recommendations emerging from ConnectSA, a city-county task force formed in 2018 to combine a busload of past studies, plans and data into a comprehensive initiative to improve local transportation.
Last summer, the tri-chairs — Henry Cisneros, Hope Andrade and Jane Macon — introduced the draft of an ambitious proposal to keep San Antonio moving as new residents, and their vehicles, pour into town. The Alamo City is already among the fastest-growing U.S. municipalities, and another million or so folks are expected in the next couple of decades, according to projections from the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Local thoroughfares have gotten far more congested. The Texas Department of Transportation is expanding roadways, but it can’t build them nearly fast enough. There will come a tipping point.
Which is why we need to start doing, instead of just planning.
Thus the ConnectSA plan, which focuses not just on buses, but on true multimodal transportation. (Not including rail, which voters have repeatedly nixed.) ConnectSA’s “25 By ’25” projects in the next five years include Advanced Rapid Transit linking Loop 1604 to the San Antonio International Airport, downtown and the South Side, plus adding 200 miles of sidewalks and 40 miles of dedicated lanes for bikes, scooters or any form of “micro-transit.”
Expanding VIA’s new on-demand program is another idea worth exploring, perhaps with Uber or Lyft.
Today’s VIA is woefully underfunded. Still, a lot of locals use public transportation. In 2018, VIA provided 36.6 million passenger trips. But, it will take more than bus riders voting to pass this plan.
At press time, it was unresolved if attempts by Nirenberg to get the San Antonio Water System to financially address aquifer protection will pan out. I’d bet some alternative funding is found (although if it involves SAWS raising rates, forget it).
Our fearless leaders would’ve been wiser to have hashed it out before announcing a vote to transfer sales-tax money from the aquifer to VIA. Still, the overall idea merits attention and support.
Texans love their cars and trucks, so for a lot of taxpayers spending more on buses has about the same attraction as a squashed armadillo in the road. But, somebody has to implement all those plans for the future of transportation here. Maybe it’s time to put our tax money where the rubber hits the road.