City Council’s Transportation Committee saw an updated list of projects in San Antonio’s request for air quality federal funding Monday.

Art Reinhardt, interim deputy director of Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) Department, presented to the committee 11 projects aimed at addressing congestion issues or improving air quality. Bexar County was deemed to be in non-attainment last July, meaning the county’s air was too polluted for Environmental Protection Agency standards. The status allowed entities in the county to access federal funding to bring air pollution down to acceptable levels.

TCI originally proposed nine programs and projects in February to submit to the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO), which distributes federal funding for transportation and mobility projects. After consulting with City staff and hearing feedback from Council members last month, a railroad overpass project was removed and three bicycle facilities projects and a sustainability program were added. The cost of all 11 projects totals $60.4 million, about the amount expected to be made available to the Bexar County area.

The projects submitted to the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization by TCI.
A slide created by the City shows the projects proposed for submittal to the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Credit: Courtesy / TCI

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) thanked Reinhardt for taking council members’ feedback in the updated application, though he was not convinced that emphasizing bike lanes would be the most effective way to reduce traffic congestion.

“What is the statistical data for congestion that [bike lanes] will alleviate? … If you have the data, I’d like to see it,” Brockhouse said. “We’re not going to get some of these things if they don’t have tangible congestion mitigation efforts.”

Reinhardt assured him that the planning organization would review the projects holistically.

“AAMPO understands something on paper may not score high, but it’s high-priority for us,” he said.

The three protected bicycle lanes cost $13.5 million altogether. Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said he appreciated seeing a number attached to protected-lane projects.

“We heard folks ask us about protected bike lanes, and now I can point to three different projects that give me a sense of scope of how much money we’re talking about,” he said. “I didn’t realize cost would be that high for some bike lanes.”

Reinhardt explained that the price to build a separated bike path varies based on where the construction would take place. For example, upgrading 1.5 miles of a bike route on Abe Lincoln costs $1.5 million, while building 0.8 miles of protected bike lane on Five Palms Drive costs $7 million. Things such as utility relocation and roadway widening make some bike lanes more expensive, Reinhardt said.

“We all want to implement as many bike facilities as we can, but once we get into the weeds, it gets more costly,” he said.

The costliest request is building an overpass for cars at the Rittiman Road railroad crossing, estimated to cost $30 million. TCI chose to keep Rittiman Road and leave out the previously-proposed Binz Engleman Road crossing because the former has the highest number of train crossings in the city, Reinhardt said. The frequent trains cause severe congestion at the crossing. He added that he does not expect AAMPO to fund the project fully.

“If we can have some federal funding, that could set us up for funding through the 2022 bond or other potential calls for projects that come up,” he said.

Reinhardt said the department included potential “overmatch” offers in its AAMPO application for the Texas Department of Transportation and VIA Metropolitan Transit to boost their chances of receiving federal funding. Each entity must match federal funding with 20 percent of their own money; the City would provide an additional 10 percent to help with TxDOT’s U.S. Highway 281 construction and several VIA projects.

Applications are due to AAMPO on April 1. The planning organization will then review them and host public meetings about proposed projects, and projects are scheduled to be approved in August.

This funding is separate from the Volkswagen settlement. The Texas Commission on Environmental Equality allocated nearly $61.6 million to San Antonio from the $209 million that Texas will receive from Volkswagen.

Reinhardt said TCI will brief the Council members not present at Wednesday’s committee meeting. City Council will vote on the AAMPO application at its Thursday meeting.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.