VIA is preparing for the first ART line, but lacks funding for a second corridor

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San Antonio – VIA Metropolitan Transit is moving forward with plans for a north-south corridor for a new kind of transportation for the city, but it’s unclear when other routes might follow.

The Biden Administration last week recommended $158 million the equivalent of federal funding for VIA’s plans for a north-south Advanced Rapid Transit (ART) corridor between the airport and the Mission Concepcion area. This would cover nearly half of the $320 million price tag required to install the line, putting the project within VIA’s reach.

ART is essentially large buses, usually running in designated lanes. With a new bus arriving every 10 to 15 minutes and passengers paying before boarding, VIA officials say it offers the benefits of a rail line at a lower cost.

VIA officials told board members at a Wednesday briefing that passengers could start using the ART corridor in 2027.

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The proposed 12-mile route of the North-South ART Corridor runs from the airport through San Pedro Avenue to downtown and then near Mission Concepcion.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, however, urged VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt to act more quickly if possible.

“Obviously there are approvals that need to happen by then. But I would encourage, if not push, you to try and meet or beat that deadline because time is running out on transit to San Antonio during the most of our lives,” Nirenberg said.

Prior to the pandemic, Nirenberg had championed shifting an 1/8 cent sales tax from funding the development of the city’s greenway trail system and an aquifer protection program to funding public transit via the Advanced Transportation District.

When COVID-19 hit the city, however, transportation issues took a back seat. But the city and VIA eventually hatched a plan to use the tax first for a workforce development program before sending it to the ATD.

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Voters accepted the plan in the November 2020 election.

The sales tax, which will begin raising funds for the ATD beginning in 2026, will be used to secure a federal loan to fund a $105.3 million tranche of the project. The remaining $56.7 million needed for the project will come from VIA’s project funds.

Arndt said VIA would like to start work on an east-west ART corridor, roughly around Commerce and Houston streets, as soon as possible, but the agency needs to identify funding first. The federal government would likely be willing to help fund the second corridor, he said, but only if VIA can also find additional funds.

“Because the feds won’t give you their cut if you don’t get your cut,” Arndt told reporters.

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Sales tax money would help fund the operations of the two corridors once they are in place.

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