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San Antonio rail progress

I’m glad to see them continue to move forward.

VIA Metropolitan Transit has hired a program manager to oversee its high-capacity transit initiative, a move that board and staff members say will help usher in the agency’s plans for an urban rail line, possibly within the next five to seven years.

The board voted to hire engineering and architecture firm HNTB Corp. at a special meeting Wednesday. HNTB, a national firm with an office in San Antonio, will work as VIA’s in-house consultants on urban rail.

The firm will oversee the entire process, from deciding the type of rail lines — streetcar or light rail, for example — the level of technology that will be adopted and where those rail lines should go.

You can see more about their long-range transit plans here. The comprehensive plan is about more than just rail, but that’s where their rail info is.

While VIA has the financial capacity to continue the same level and quality of its current bus service, the agency needs more money to become a true multi-modal agency, President and CEO Keith Parker said. Parker was hired to head VIA in 2009 after helping to bring light rail to Charlotte, N.C., as chief executive there.

“We have enough money to stay as we are,” Parker said. “But that’s not why I came here.”

One of HNTB’s key roles will be to ensure VIA has the financial capacity to build a rail system, something the Federal Transit Administration will require before providing matching funds.

“As program manager, we will help you find the money,” Keahey said Wednesday in a presentation to the board before its vote.

The FTA advises that urban rail projects of this nature, involving federal dollars, can take seven to 10 years to become fully operational, Keahey said.

But Parker wants to see urban streetcar here even sooner — possibly by 2015 or 2016.

Given that the proposed Republican transportation reauthorization bill represents a 33% cut in funding from current levels, I don’t know how realistic that is. I wish San Antonio well, though I must admit it will chap my hide a bit if they get something done that quickly while we’re still working to fulfill the promises of the 2003 light rail referendum.

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