The VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees approved an application for federal air quality funding at its meeting Tuesday.

VIA is requesting a total of $52.9 million for its projects and included five programs in their application to the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO), the group that handles federal grant money and allocates it to different entities.

The federal government made $60 million available to Bexar County after the county did not meet EPA air quality standards in 2018. The total funding will be distributed over three years for projects and programs chosen by AAMPO.

VIA’s application also offers $10.58 million in locally matched funds and $5.29 million in “overmatch” funding. The overmatch funding includes $1.35 million from the City of San Antonio, which the City put in its own application to AAMPO.

Timothy Mulry, a strategic planner with VIA, said that replacing 63 of the company’s diesel buses with compressed natural gas buses would cost $34 million, but would also have significant impact on San Antonio’s air quality. Mulry estimated the replacement would reduce nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions by 73.6 kilograms per day and cut 7.6 kilograms of volatile organic compounds (VOC) per day.

“That is the highest reduction of emissions of all the projects being considered,” Mulry said.

VIA also requested $11.4 million to increase frequency on the Looper and Stone Oak Express bus routes, which would lead to an estimated 15 percent increase in ridership, Mulry said. The application also includes a request for $4 million to expand its mobility-on-demand program in a second area, $2.5 million to add to its vanpool fleet, and $1 million to increase access to its VIAWorks small business program.

According to VIA, emissions reduction calculations are based on toolkits provided by the AAMPO and Federal Highway Administration. Future ridership estimates come from the agency tracking ridership trends.

The City of San Antonio has requested $60.4 million in federal funding for its own projects. Board member Amanda Merck asked if the promised overmatch from the City would still go to VIA if the City’s projects were not approved.

“If they don’t get as much funding as expected, are they still committed to this?” she asked.

Mulry assured her that City Council approved the overmatch in its application. The City offered an overmatch because more local dollars would help those projects score better with AAMPO, he said.

“There’s a mutual benefit for those projects identified,” he said. “As of this week, those funding commitments were approved by City Council, so we’re moving forward [as if] the City will give that local match commitment.”

VIA has not yet factored its offered local matching funds into future budgets, said Clay Smith, director of Advanced Transportation District and VIA Capital Programs. Once funding is awarded, VIA can decide how put the match into its budget.

“The [federal funding] starts in 2020 and goes through 2022,” Smith said. “That’ll be part of the budget process, to account for those.”

The deadline to apply for federal air-quality funding through AAMPO is April 1. The planning organization is expected to make funding decisions in August.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.