The heat on VIA, Bexar County and the City of San Antonio is being cranked up to boiling levels as pressure increases to kill the controversial downtown streetcar plan, or at least call an election to see if there is any support at all for the project.
In letters to the county, VIA Chairman Alex Briseno, and the Texas Transportation Commission, influential State Rep. Lyle Larson says he has not seen a 'more divisive issue in this community over the last two decades.'
In very strong words for political discourse, Larson calls the bizarre money swap that is being used to build the streetcar 'unethical and potentially illegal.'
"The streetcar project does nothing to increase mobility for all of our community," Larson wrote. "Rather, it commits a great deal of traditional roadway infrastructure funds to a project that will serve a very small number of folks in our community."
Larson suggests that the $92 million that TexDOT has allocated for the streetcar be reallocated to funding flyover interchanges at Highway 151 and Loop 410, or providing dollars for a traditional funding strategy for adding capacity to Highway 281 from Loop 1604 to Marshall Road.
"It is abundantly clear that the streetcar proposal is hugely unpopular amongst Bexar County residents," Larson wrote. "The City of San Antonio is poised to either allow the voters to vote on this issue and/or rescind its participation in the project by withdrawing its contribution and redirecting it to street maintenance."
To get around concerns that the 2004 Advanced Transportation District sales tax vote, in which VIA promised 'not to spend any' of the sales tax money on 'light rail,' VIA engaged in a money swap with TxDOT, in which it sent the money to the state in exchange for an equal amount of money to be used for the streetcar. This after VIA officials were roundly ridiculed for claiming that a 'streetcar' is not 'light rail.'
Larson says VIA's action withdrawing its support for the streetcar would 'cleanse the funding process.'
Larson's letter comes on the heels of a San Antonio City Attorney's ruling that voters may be allowed to hold a referendum on two future votes which are necessary before the city's funding will be allocated to the streetcar. In addition, streetcar opponents are circulating petitions in support of a charter change vote in November which would require a public vote before any taxpayer funded city streets could be torn up to build any 'railed transportation system.'