Leon Valley council opts for rapid buses versus toll road

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Leon Valley council supports rapid buses
By Amanda Reimherr Buckert
Express-News< 02/05/2008 The Leon Valley City Council approved a resolution Tuesday supporting an idea to help speed up traffic on congested Bandera Road — and it doesn't include toll roads. Proposed by Mayor Chris Riley, the resolution backs a concept to have VIA Metropolitan Transit's second rapid bus line along Bandera. "The Fredericksburg Road corridor will be VIA's first corridor for bus rapid transit, or BRT, and will be operational in 2012," said Priscilla Ingle, the vice president of public affairs for VIA. The Texas Department of Transportation has allocated no money to improve Bandera Road, so the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority was charged with finding long-term solutions. A total of 21 options are being considered, but the only one that can fund any improvements is tolling. Rapid buses have been discussed at several council meetings, and Riley said she plans to send the resolution to VIA, the mobility authority and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. "I ride the bus all the time, and I believe in mass transportation," Riley said. "I think it is the way of the future for both convenience and to protect the environment." Riley has already met with representatives from VIA. And in Eugene, Ore., she met with Graham Carey, an expert on BRT and a project engineer with Lane Transit District. "It has been incredibly successful in (Eugene). We opened in January of last year, and within six months, we exceeded our 20-year projection for ridership," Carey said. "Many people talk about light rail when talking about mass transportation, but we like to call this 'like rail' because we apply all the light rail components into this concept." Carey said the vehicles run on concrete strips that resemble a track and have multiple doors like a train, but light rail can be 10 times more expensive than a rapid bus system. Riley said she rode the system in Eugene with Carey and was hooked. "I was so impressed. BRT will change people's perceptions about the bus. It truly feels like light rail and runs regularly like a train from stations, so you don't need a bus schedule," she said. However, any substantial improvements to Bandera Road are years away. "There is an environmental impact study being conducted on Bandera that is still four to five years away from being completed, and no long-term improvements can be done until then," said Leroy Alloway, spokesman for the mobility authority. "This is a good, long-term vision on the city's part, but don't expect immediate implementation." A rapid bus line would require a dedicated lane to keep travel speeds and times, officials said. VIA's Ingle said her agency is looking at the space along roadways, and other factors, before determinations of future routes are made. "We are going to be putting together a long-range plan to identify other corridors for future BRT routes," she said. "That process will be a 12-18-month process, and then the goal is to determine other corridors that will be suitable and then prioritizing them." Leon Valley recently approved its El Verde 2020 plan, which has an objective for the city to become carbon neutral by the year 2020. "One of the goals of that plan is to increase mass transit. It seems our community is not in favor of a toll road, so we need to be for something," Mayor Riley said. "I think this is an excellent alternative to a toll road."