Link to article here. We all knew why Via suddenly did a 180 and began voting with TxDOT FOR tolls rather with the PEOPLE and voting against…TxDOT’s bullying tactics and promises for a piece of the private sector pie got them to sell out the citizens real fast. Shouldn’t surprise us that government teams up with government to rip-off the taxpayer. Self-interest is getting uglier by the minute…
Private sector may hold key to VIA plans for rapid buses
By Patrick Driscoll
VIA Metropolitan Transit’s upcoming experiment with rapid buses, the agency’s rubber-tire answer to light rail, will involve asking private investors to help foot the bill for easing gridlock on the car-crazy Northwest Side.The idea is to parlay what 14,000 passengers a day, perhaps many of them suburban commuters, would bring to businesses on corners like Babcock Road and Medical Drive.
Seven acres of grassland and scrub trees on the southwest corner of that busy intersection will be home to a transit station serving as a terminus for a rapid-bus line, connecting the sprawling South Texas Medical Center to downtown, city officials said Tuesday. Two acres were set aside for commercial development.
But officials aren’t sure what type of venture might end up there, or even if it will be designed more for pedestrians than cars. Market studies and developer interest will have a lot to say about that.
“We’re just not far enough into the process yet to have details,” VIA President John Milam said.
A friendlier pedestrian environment is just what’s needed around the Medical Center campus, said Dr. James Andry, who’s renovating a building across the street into a sleep lab and office. Better sidewalks and shuttle buses could help, he said.
“Look here, you can’t even cross the street so easily,” he said, pointing across Babcock Road. “People don’t walk enough in the Medical Center, that’s for sure. Everything is so spread out.”
After voters rejected a light-rail plan in 2000, VIA changed course and decided to make buses work more like rail.
There’s no specific plan yet, but agency officials say options include articulated buses that bend in the middle, sheltered transit stations, real-time message boards, ticketing without fare boxes, dedicated bus lanes and technology to hold or trip traffic signals.
“It’ll be like light rail but on rubber tires,” VIA Chairman Eddie Herrera said Tuesday.
The agency’s first rapid buses could run through the Medical Center, on Fredericksburg Road and along Interstate 10 to a planned Westside Multimodal Center near the University of Texas’ downtown campus.
The $99 million project, about half-funded with federal grants and the rest locally, is expected to be fully designed and built by 2012. The high-tech buses could shave travel times by a third and boost ridership up to a fourth as they whisk riders between the city’s two largest job centers.
Though rapid-bus systems are babes compared to light rail and don’t have the same reputation for cultivating higher-density walkable developments or for attracting white-collar commuters, VIA officials will look for ways to make money from the extra traffic they hope to generate.
One proposal calls for additional taxes on new development along the rapid-bus line — through a tax increment-financing district. Another plan, the one touted Tuesday, is to carve out chunks of land next to bus stations and partner with developers to build there.
The transit station at Babcock Road and Medical Drive — with a 60-seat lobby, canopies outside and 128 parking spaces in the back — will be VIA’s first effort to rope in such private investment. The agency will seek proposals to get the best value.
The station could open in two years, replacing the transit facility in the Medical Center. It later would become the terminus for the rapid-bus line, which officials say would ease congestion in the heavily traveled area.
“It will be the nucleus of the Medical Center transportation,” District 8 City Councilwoman Diane Cibrian said as she stood on a mowed carpet of brown grass.