VIA Metropolitan Transit’s modern streetcar system in San Antonio will generate billions of dollars in new real estate development, jobs and economic activity over the next 25 years, according to a new study conducted by SABÉR Institute of St. Mary’s University and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that was released Monday.
The study was conducted under the supervision of Steve R. Nivin, PhD, the institute’s director and chief economist, and was unveiled at a Monday press conference at VIA’s headquarters. VIA CEO Jeffrey Arndt, Nivin, and Alex Briseño, VIA’s board chairman, among others, spoke at the press conference. The study’s release comes amid considerable campaigning by anti-streetcar forces to undermine the project and in the case of the firefighters union, to oppose it as a mechanism for bringing pressure on city officials to award the union a more lucrative wage and benefits contract.
Streetcar proponents have long argued that streetcars are one part of a comprehensive strategy designed to meet San Antonio’s long-term transportation needs and enhance its profile as a progressive city that will attract young professionals who want to live and work where public transportation, cycling, and pedestrian options allow them to avoid commuting or a lifestyle in which an automobile is a daily necessity. Streetcar and light rail systems, supporters argue, also act as economic generators.
“The streetcar project is not a stand-alone project. It’s part of a comprehensive transportation plan that has an economic impact,” said VIA Board Chairman Alexander Briseño. “This is an investment that’s worthwhile. It’s one that’s important for the community and the future.”
“We’re not talking about the needs of the people today; we’re talking about the needs of the people of the future,” Briseño added. “We need to provide options and alternatives. This system, as part of that comprehensive transportation plan, provides one of those alternatives.”
The construction of a $280 million modern streetcar system will support 4,080 new jobs and $206 million in payroll and benefits, according to Nivin, with an overall impact on the regional economy of $489 million. The study anticipates seven million square feet of new real estate development along the completed routes, generating $756 million in taxable improvements. That would lead to 8,500 new jobs and $387 million in new payroll and benefits, according to the study.
New businesses along the route will generate $1.8 billion in new construction and an additional $1.3 billion in economic activity, contributing $265 million in new tax revenues to the city, county and San Antonio Independent School District. In addition to the substantial increase in property taxes, sales tax revenues from new businesses will grow by $53 million annually.
“These data just further substantiate the fully transformational nature of the streetcar project,” Arndt said. “It will change the way people get around the central business district and connect with an expanded transit system. It will change the face of downtown while generating substantial economic benefits that will be enjoyed throughout the region. And it will create an urban environment that offers a lifestyle choice that appeals to young professionals. Everyone wins.”
Streetcar systems have played large roles in creating technology advanced transportation systems within many U.S. cities. There are 26 streetcar systems operating in the U.S. and Canada, and 90 other cities, including San Antonio, are in the process of planning the construction of a streetcar system.
The Rivard Report is publishing an occasional series of stories about streetcars in other cities over the coming months. The first story looking at the largest streetcar system in North America in Toronto appeared today: Toronto: The City That Saved its Streetcar Tracks.
Not only will the construction and operation of a modern street car system contribute jobs, money and new business development, but it will further connect the city and help create a more sustainable environment with transportation options not readily available now, including enhanced cycling and pedestrian options.
“I am very confident that a streetcar system could have a substantial impact,” Nivin said. “A streetcar system will serve as connective tissue for San Antonio.”
Constructing a modern streetcar system also will lead to a decrease in vehicle traffic and carbon emissions as more people leave their vehicles at home and fewer buses clog traffic in the downtown area. The money saved by individuals who choose to make use of streetcars rather than a vehicle will be invested in household and other expenses.
“This report has given us some substantial numbers to work with,” Briseño said. Any discussion of the benefits of the streetcar system should include these figures and the positive impact they will have on our economy.”
*Featured/top image: Streetcar rendering courtesy of VIA Metropolitan Transit.