After listening to former Mayor Henry Cisneros brief them on a multimodal mobility plan Wednesday, most City Council members voiced support for the ConnectSA draft framework, but two members expressed concerns about how the plan will be funded.
Cisneros, the former U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, is one of three chairs of ConnectSA, with former City Attorney Jane Macon and former Texas Secretary of State and current VIA Board Chair Hope Andrade. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Ron Nirenberg formed the group to come up with a comprehensive and long-range plan for getting people around San Antonio.
In his presentation to City Council, Cisneros showed two side-by-side maps comparing 2010 traffic congestion and projected congestion by 2040.
“You see that without major improvements to our transportation system, with the growth that we expect – we’re now a city of more than 1.4 million people and growing by some estimates as much as 1 million people in this timeframe – congestion will get decidedly more serious,” Cisneros said. “That translates into about 166 extra hours each year, or seven full days sitting in traffic by 2040. It is clear that … we cannot just build our way out of congestion.”
The ConnectSA draft plan was released last December and lays out eight recommended goals and 10 possible funding mechanisms. The plan does not include rail, which voters rejected in earlier elections, and does not include toll roads.
Out of the total existing funding committed to capital projects from 2019 to 2025, $1.8 billion is dedicated toward highways, $1.2 billion toward city and county roadways, and $193 million for transit, Cisneros said. But there is still a $1.3 billion price tag on ConnectSA’s proposed 25 projects by 2025, and an estimated $1.45 billion cost for potential projects between 2025 and 2030, neither of which have funding sources yet.
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) asked Cisneros about funding possibilities, saying he wanted to avoid raising vehicle registration costs for Bexar County residents or charging extra fees to pay for the city’s transportation infrastructure, as Austin does.
“I’ve got a big concern about how we’re going to pay for this, obviously,” Perry said.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who last week launched his mayoral campaign, said he was concerned that the estimated cost of potential projects between 2019 and 2030 did not include operating costs.
“That’s a huge blank check,” he said. “I’d ask that you’d not think about this only in the vacuum of transportation, because this is a $3 billion sell to the community.”
Cisneros stressed that other cities were able to come up with funding for their transportation networks. San Antonio already funds its transit system to a lesser extent compared to other major cities in Texas, and the city cannot afford to sit back, he said.
“The reality is we are going to grow,” Cisneros said. “We are in Texas. We are part of the Texas triangle. That whole dynamic is unleashed. We couldn’t stop the growth if we wanted to, just like Austin couldn’t. We gotta figure this out. And that’s what we hope this process will do. And being unwilling to consider creative ways to pay for it is not an option.”
Cisneros said he estimates the rest of 2019 will be spent conducting about 100 public input meetings around the city. ConnectSA plans to meet with the 10 chambers of commerce in San Antonio, major employers such as USAA and the University of Texas at San Antonio, and other stakeholders, Cisneros said.
Shannon Perez, executive director of ConnectSA, said no formal meetings have yet been scheduled, but the group is ready to put on large-scale public input meetings in each City Council district.
“Meanwhile, we will be visiting with smaller civic organizations as invited,” she said.