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VIA thinks bigger on streetcars

They may be scaling back in Dallas, but San Antonio’s transit agency will apply for more federal funds to build a more extensive streetcar network.

VIA Metropolitan Transit’s board of trustees voted Tuesday to spike a federal grant application for up to $25 million because it could have ended up costing the agency and its partners β€” the city and Bexar County β€” more money to build a streetcar system in the long run.

Instead, the board directed VIA staff to seek federal funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts and Small Starts program, which allows for larger amounts of federal funding.

Using the Small Starts program, VIA would move away from its controversial decision to build only a north-south streetcar route along Broadway and South Alamo as its first-phase project.

With Small Starts funding, VIA would be able to build both north-south and east-west routes in its first phase of construction.

β€œThe true upside of the Small Starts process is that we’d be able, with the same amount of local money, to do both projects,” said Keith Parker, VIA’s president and CEO.

Both lines are primarily downtown, though future expansion will venture a bit farther out. If they succeed at this, it could all be up and running by 2016, which at this point might be sooner than the University line here. Given all the ups and downs with the FTA funding process that Metro has experienced, all I can say is good luck with the paperwork.

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