SAN ANTONIO — Roughly 80 miles apart, I-35 – one of the state's most congested highways – is the quickest route connecting San Antonio and Austin. A $1.5 million proposal for a pilot program would support a public bidirectional bus route along the corridor.
Diane Rath, executive director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG), looks at it as a temporary solution to support a mobile workforce and exploding economies in two of the fastest-growing cities in the state.
"Trains would be the long-term option, but that takes many, many years and billions of dollars," Rath said. "(We're) trying to have a short-term solution both for the congestion and air quality."
To avoid even more congestion through this program, Rath said she's hopeful the legislature would consider demarcating the highway shoulder for emergencies and public transportation, particularly if HOV or other dedicated lanes aren't a viable option.
As part of the pilot program, Rath estimates riders would pay $10 for a day pass to use the service. That fee could go up after the two years. Two buses would have 12 scheduled stops, and they run from Monday through Friday from 6:45 a.m. until 9:45 p.m.
The route would begin at at Via's Randolph Park and Ride station and end at the Austin Convention Center, and include stops in New Braunfels and San Marcos.
During Rath's presentation at this week's Transportation and Mobility Committee meeting, San Antonio councilmembers expressed concern over accessibility of the Randolph station, which sits closer to the city's northeast side.
"Relying on Randolph would exclude the southern sector, southeast side and west side of San Antonio," said District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, who later asked if Via's Madla Transit Center on the south side was considered.
Rath said the Randolph location was chosen to keep the buses' run times as short as possible, while conceding they were open to changes to the proposal.
"I worry about the folks on the south and west sides of town, but I’d like to see a plan to extend to those sides of town," said District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havdra.
Also addressing the committee was former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, who said connecting the two cities was critical to the Alamo City's growth.
"We've been talking about a rail forever... those are likely not going to happen," he said. "We’re really being irresponsible if we don’t figure out how to relieve the congestion before these two metros."
Two buses are readily available through Capital Area Rural Transit (CART), the public transportation system in Austin. Rath said the pilot could launch as early as two to three months after funding is secured.
Currently, all jurisdictions involved seem to be very interested in the program, Rath added. They are currently applying for grants and seeking funding from all participating jurisdictions.