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San Marcos

San Marcos files amicus brief against SB4

Good for them.

The city of San Marcos filed a legal brief Thursday supporting Austin, San Antonio and other cities that have filed suit against the state for its new law on immigration enforcement.

In the 16-page brief, city attorney Michael Cosentino argued that under Senate Bill 4, fear of immigration enforcement will lead people to avoid calling police, reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses — in turn, making the city less safe.

[…]

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to file the brief during a special meeting called a week after the council decided against joining the lawsuit as a party. Community groups and other residents had for months put pressure on the council to take a public stand.

“Hundreds of local residents have attended public meetings of the City Council and expressed their fears and concerns about the potential impact of SB 4,” Cosentino wrote in the amicus brief. “Despite the San Marcos Police Department’s ongoing efforts to calm the fears of the community, there are many who still believe that they, their family members, or friends will be stopped, questioned, detailed, or deported if SB 4 becomes law.”

The San Marcos Police Department’s current policy — to ask about immigration status only when someone has been arrested for involvement in a violent crime — will not be enforceable under SB 4, Cosentino wrote. The law will prevent departments from setting a policy limiting when immigration questions may be asked.

Cosentino suggested that the issue is especially of concern to residents of San Marcos, almost 40 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data, as well as students of its school district and San Marcos-based Texas State University, both of which are majority Hispanic.

See here for the background. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan also filed an amicus brief after Commissioners Court declined to get involved. San Marcos is the first city in a county that went for both Greg Abbott in 2014 and Donald Trump (barely) in 2016 to get involved. We’re less than a week out from the implementation date for SB4, and with the redistricting lawsuit off the docket for now for Judge Garcia, hopefully we can get a ruling soon.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

Uber to abandon Corpus Christi

Another one bites the dust.

Uber

In what has become a familiar move for Uber, the vehicle-for-hire company announced Wednesday it will cease operations in Corpus Christi, pointing to “unnecessary” regulations recently adopted by the city.

Corpus Christi’s City Council approved new regulations this week that would require app-based vehicle-for-hire drivers to undergo a fingerprint background check, a requirement Uber has resisted in most markets. The company plans to end services in Corpus Christi on Sunday, two hours before the new law goes into affect, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times.

“The proposed ordinance would require drivers to complete unnecessary and duplicative steps that make it difficult for them to earn extra money and hurt our ability to ensure that riders have access to reliable and affordable transportation,” Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager in South and East Texas, wrote in a letter to Corpus Christi’s city council on March 4.

Corpus Christi will be the third city Uber has left this year in response to local laws. In February, the company ceased operations in Galveston and Midland after the cities voted to enact background-check requirements.

[…]

Despite Uber’s disdain for mandatory fingerprint-based background checks, the company has continued to operate in Houston, where drivers are required to undergo those background checks.

Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez said she feels Uber is more lax when it comes to accepting regulations in larger cities. Houston is Texas’ largest city with over 2 million residents. Corpus Christi, with a population of around 316,000, is the eighth largest city in Texas.

“It is unfortunate that they believe that comprehensive background checks with fingerprints and safety in smaller cities are less important,” she said Wednesday. “We have been working with them since the fall of 2014 and what makes me most sad about them leaving Corpus Christi is that they are leaving loyal customers and drivers who depend on them.”

Martinez said she would welcome the company back in the future, but would “absolutely not” consider softening the ordinance.

So the pattern is pretty clear here – your city can have fingerprint checks, or it can have Uber, but not both. Unless your city is Houston, apparently. But how long will that be the case? With that in mind, I sent the following questions to Uber spokesperson Debbee Hancock:

1. Is it now Uber’s policy to no longer operate in cities that require fingerprint checks?

2. Does this mean that Uber plans to pull out of Houston? if not, then how does Uber respond to Corpus Mayor Martinez’s statement that “Uber is more lax when it comes to accepting regulations in larger cities”?

And the answers I received:

We know from our experience in Houston that these rules can have a devastating impact on our ability to provide the experience that drivers and riders have come to love and expect. ​Since then, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations in every city that has adopted new laws that require similarly​ duplicative r​egulations on drivers.

We have also made a major shift in our expansion strategy.​ At the beginning of 2014, the only people in Texas that had access to Uber were the people of Dallas. With a goal of making transportation as reliable as running water, we rapidly expanded our operations across the state. Today, millions of Texans in more than a dozen cities can open the app to request a ride.​ ​

Most cities have rapidly embraced this innovative transportation option. In fact, multiple cities where we did not already operate, such as San Marcos and Beaumont, invited us to launch by​ proactively​ adopting pro-ridesharing regulations. We have limited our expansion plan to cities that adopt similar regulations as Beaumont, San Marcos, College Station, and Abilene.

We have been monitoring the impact these regulations are having on riders and drivers, and we’re concerned by the trends we see (barriers to entry for drivers, longer wait times, fewer available rides late at night when people need it most , etc.). It is no surprise that these regulations don’t work for ridesharing since they were designed for the taxicab industry long before this technology existed. It is our hope that we can work with the City to modernize the process so we can continue to operate in Houston.

So there you have it. I’m just speculating here, but if the Austin rideshare referendum passes, I won’t be surprised if we see some action in Houston afterward.

Lone Star Rail District update

Haven’t heard from these guys in awhile.

According to [Lone Star Rail District], the [proposed rail line] will provide essential relief from the I-35 highway congestion. The express trip from downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio would take 75 minutes.

Completing the project, however, crawls slowly forward as the approval for the train involves several different counties, including Austin, Bexar, Travis, Hays and Williamson.

In January of 2015, the LSRD hosted several informational events in both Austin and San Antonio with the intention to gain support for local and state funding of the project.

The rail system will cost taxpayers roughly $1.7 billion.

[…]

The Texas Department of Transportation has already given their consent for the project to move forward, and the LSRD has formally “kicked off the federal environmental process” according to an email sent in September of 2014 from a staff member of LSRD, Allison Schulze, to Alamo area officials and advocates of the project.

The LSRD intends to transform an existing Union Pacific rail line into the commuter line. Thus, in adhering to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the federal government will evaluate and improve the safety of the rail for transporting people.

LSRD, in an report with KVUE news, states if kept on schedule the project from now until finish will take about 5 years.

The last update I had on this was back in January of 2012. More recently, as that KVUE story from this January notes, the LSRD held a series of public information meetings, which is part of the environmental review process. Last December, the Austin City Council voted to support the funding to maintain and operate a regional passenger rail line, which is obviously a big step. That story indicates that this approval is contingent on a “legislative decision to tweak a state law” as well as an agreement from Union Pacific to share its tracks. No clue what the “legislative decision” is about – I presume it’s a bill that needs to be passed to allow for funds to be spent on a project like this. One hopes it will meet less resistance than the Texas Central Railway has met.

I should note that a travel time of 75 minutes is about what it took to drive from Austin to San Antonio 25 years ago, when much of that stretch of I-35 was farmland. I doubt one can drive it that quickly any time during the day now. Note that there would be multiple stops along the way, so we’re not talking express service. I presume this also means that several other city councils, in places like Schertz and New Braunfels and San Marcos and Buda, will have to take similar votes to approve funding for maintenance and operations. A five year timeline seems awfully optimistic given all the things that could go wrong, but I’m rooting for them to succeed.

Maybe there’s a problem with building roads where there are no drivers

The high speed toll road keeps having problems relating to not having enough paying customers.

Speed Limit 85

SH 130 has not been the immediate success story its backers had hoped. Last week, lower-than-expected traffic revenue prompted credit ratings firm Moody’s Investors Service to severely downgrade the SH 130 Concession Company’s debt and warned that a default may not be far off. The project’s stumbles are likely to draw increased scrutiny of how Texas plans to fund future infrastructure projects, though local and state officials are working to distinguish SH 130 from other toll projects in the works.

Moody’s downgraded $1.1 billion of debt tied to the project by five notches, from B1 to Caa3, considered junk status. It’s the second time the firm has downgraded the project’s debt, following an earlier downgrade in April.

“Bottom line is we believe they have enough money for their December payment, but they do not have enough money for their June 2014 payment,” Moody spokesman David Jacobson said.

The threat of a default could prompt the SH 130 Concession Company, a partnership between Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure, to refinance its debt next year or inject additional money into the project. TxDOT could view an ongoing cash-flow problem as reason to terminate its toll contract with the company decades ahead of schedule, according to Moody’s.

[…]

The consortium spent $1.3 billion to build the southern portion of SH 130, known as Segments 5 and 6. Combined with the publicly funded northern portion (Segments 1-4), SH 130 connects Georgetown to Seguin, providing a 90-mile bypass around San Antonio and Austin. TxDOT officials have expressed hope that the road would someday serve as a popular alternative to congested Interstate 35 for those driving through Central Texas. Backers, noting the 50-year contract with TxDOT, also predict that future development in Lockhart and other small towns along the toll road’s route would lead to increased traffic in the future.

But the road’s location — about 30 miles east of the most congested portions of Central Texas — was viewed as a challenge from the start. Most other toll projects around the state are similar to the MoPac Express in Austin, which is adding toll lanes to the median of a congested highway. At last week’s ceremony to celebrate the start of construction, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization chairman Will Conley said the project’s location distinguishes it from SH 130.

“I think this project is fundamentally different,” Conley said. “[SH] 130, of course, is a greenfield project and, I think, more of a longer-term-type project. Whereas, the day this opens, this is going to impact an immediate need on MoPac.”

See here for more on the April downgrade. A big part of the problem here is that there’s very few people where SH 130 is. That’s by design, of course, since it was intended to be a low-traffic option, but it means almost no one hops on it because it’s convenient. You have to plan to take it. It’s difficult enough to get people to change habits when the alternative you propose is easy to use and right in front of them. Just getting to SH 130 means going miles out of your way. It’s not quite as far out a detour as I first thought – here’s a map; I’d forgotten how much I-35 veers to the east, which makes it fairly close to I-10 for the first thirty or so miles out of San Antonio – but even in San Antonio, it’s passing through lightly populated territory. The towns it passes through between San Antonio and Austin are much smaller than their I-35 counterparts, too – Seguin has about 25,000 people and Lockhart has about 11,000, while New Braunfels has 57,000 and San Marcos has 50,000. I guess the bet that the SH 130 investors were making is that the population will grow around the highway, and I’m sure eventually it will, but eastern San Antonio – I’m talking along I-10 outside Loop 410 – doesn’t look that much different to me today than it did 25 years ago when I left SA for Houston. There’s a bit more development out there, but it’s mostly industrial, not commercial or residential. You want that, go west and north. Maybe 25 years from now it’ll be more built up. I don’t think the SH 130 Concession Company can wait that long.

Another Lone Star Rail update

From the Statesman:

Commuter rail between San Antonio and Georgetown, at least as a legislatively sanctioned policy goal, will have its 15th birthday this spring. The tiny government agency created later to make it a reality is almost 9 years old.

The LSTAR rail line, despite millions of dollars spent already on various studies, remains mostly an aspiration. But officials with the Lone Star Rail District quietly have made progress over the past 15 months, reaching a preliminary agreement with Union Pacific that paves the way for the freight operator to cede its existing urban railroad to the passenger rail. They also narrowed to three the possible paths for an alternate freight line east of Austin.

The district has begun a $10 million federally required environmental study on the passenger line and just received a promise of $10 million from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization for a similar study on the potential new Union Pacific freight line. Over the years, the district has received or been promised almost $60 million, mostly in federal and state grants, for various studies.

Where to find the money to build and operate the line, as always, remains the great unknown, with projected initial investment for the passenger and freight lines at $1.5 billion or more and annual operating costs in the tens of millions.

But district staff members, turning to a financing model for Central Texas toll roads over the past decade, now say they will look to the private sector to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the 115-mile, 16-station line from Georgetown, through downtown Austin, to San Antonio’s south side.

[…]

[Joe Black, Lone Star rail director and operations manager] and Alison Schulze, a district senior planner, gave some details of how the line might operate, based on studies and other research.

Initial fares likely would be about 18 cents a mile, Black said, or about $20 for a trip the length of the line. But he said that, just as with most transit agencies, there would be discounted fares for month passes.

A trip between downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio likely would take about 90 minutes — not high speed but considerably faster than Amtrak. Ridership in the beginning, the district estimates, would be 12,000 to 20,000 boardings a day, most of those would be much shorter jaunts to and from downtown Austin and San Antonio to the cities’ suburbs.

See here, here, and here for some background. The travel time makes it comparable to the Austin-Houston rail line, with the main difference from my perspective being that the Austin to San Antonio corridor makes more sense from a commuter perspective. Look at the proposed map – having places like New Braunfels and San Marcos in between, not to mention Georgetown and Pflugerville to the north, just about guarantees ridership through the day, as long as there’s some way to get where you’re going at the endpoints. By contrast, I don’t see that much demand to get to and from Hempstead or Brenham or Giddings for the Austin/Houston line. The price is attractive as well; there was no mention of that in the Austin/Houston study, but if it’s the same rate then the total would be about the same, since the line that doesn’t detour through College Station has 109 miles of track. Best guesstimate at this point for how long it will take to get up and running is five to seven years. Check back in 2017 or so and see where things stand then.

San Marcos takes a step forward on smoking ban

A non-binding step, anyway.

Presented with four ways to proceed with a potential public smoking ban, the San Marcos City Council opted late Tuesday to move forward with putting a nonbinding referendum before voters in November.

Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison said the council wouldn’t have to act even if voters approved the initiative. And if residents vote in favor of a smoking ban, the council would have the opportunity to tweak the language after the election, she said.

[…]

Mayor Daniel Gurrero pointed out that there’s still time for the council to “slam on the brakes” if council members decide they don’t want to pursue the initiative.

See here for the background. Those of you in San Marcos who might want to register an opinion about this, there will be two public meetings at which to do so. If you’re wondering about which Texas cities do and do not have smoking bans, Wikipedia has you covered. Looks like West Texas is the place to be if you still want to light one up – Abilene has a ban, but Amarillo (which voted a referendum down in 2008), Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, and San Angelo are all missing from those lists.

Still no statewide smoking ban

Last Tuesday, just before the special session ended, the Trib summarized where the effort to pass a statewide smoking ban stood.

Bill: SB 28 would institute a statewide ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and many public places. If passes, supporters say it would save an estimated $31 million dollars in Medicaid spending over the next biennium.

Status: Passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and headed to the Senate floor, where it will likely land today.

What to watch for: Despite widespread public support for the measure, it faces opposition from owners of smoker-friendly establishments and a corps of conservative lawmakers who killed the amendment during the regular session. Even if it makes it out of the Senate, it will likely die on the clock.

Indeed, SB28 never made it out of the Senate – it never even got a floor vote before the Senate high-tailed it out of town. So, smoke ’em if you got ’em, those of you who live someplace that hasn’t yet tightened its local anti-smoking ordinances. And look for more places like San Marcos to take it up this year or next.

With the fate of a proposed statewide smoking ban in flux in the current session, the San Marcos City Council is considering a November ballot initiative that would ban smoking in public places.

A “public place” is still undefined, and many questions about the potential ordinance have yet to be answered. Mayor Daniel Guerrero said he asked for the item to be put on the agenda to talk about the city’s options.

In the end, council members directed city staffers to return in two weeks with more information about options for a binding or nonbinding referendum, the latter of which would give the council flexibility in when or whether to implement the ban if the voters approve it, possible ordinance language and a schedule for public feedback and future council discussion.

The council must decide whether to put the initiative on the November ballot by Aug. 2.

That was published while the Lege was still in session. I’ll check back later to see what they decide.

The missing people of San Marcos

Houston isn’t the only city that got unexpectedly bad news from the Census.

Just how many people live in San Marcos? Lately, that depends on whom you ask.

For the past three years, city officials have estimated the population to be more than 50,000 people. Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau seemed to agree, offering a guess of 53,205 in 2009.

But official results from the 2010 census tell a different story. They put the city’s population at 44,894 , far below previous estimates and raising the possibility that San Marcos residents were undercounted.

[…]

The Census Bureau reports that San Marcos had a relatively low rate of mail-in participation in the census compared with the rest of Hays County, other nearby cities and the national average of 74 percent.

The data show that 67 percent of San Marcos households filled out and mailed in their census forms, up from 64 percent in 2000. New Braunfels had a 78 percent mail-in rate in 2010. Wimberley had 79 percent.

Different areas of San Marcos, including near downtown and Texas State University, ran as low as 61 percent, the data show.

Census volunteers were directed to follow up when households failed to send in forms. However, Lloyd Potter , the state’s official demographer and director of the Texas State Data Center said, “I think not getting a good return rate certainly increases the possibility of an undercount.”

On Jan. 1, the city released a population estimate of 53,023 people. The Texas State Data Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio estimated San Marcos had 55,678 residents in July 2009 and 56,563 in January 2010. Even the Census Bureau’s yearly American Community Survey offered an estimate of 53,205 in 2009.

Potter said he did not know whether anyone would be held accountable in the event of an undercount.

As it happens, Houston’s participation rate was also 67%, which was also up from 64% in 2000. Houston’s population total is off by at least 100,000 if you project from earlier estimates, but on a percentage basis San Marcos’ count is much farther off – about 18%, compared to about six percent for Houston. I have no idea what happened, but someone needs to figure it out, because either those estimates were badly flawed or the official count missed by a lot; either case is bad. In any event, consider this an extra dollop of evidence for those who favor proceeding with adding two extra Council seats based on Houston reaching 2.1 million in population.

Lone Star Rail

We’ve talked a number of times in this space about the possibility of building a commuter rail line between Houston and Galveston, possibly connecting to another line that would run out Highway 290 to College Station. That effort is just now starting to gain some momentum, and could see construction begin relatively soon. Another place where that kind of rail would make a lot of sense is between Austin and San Antonio. They have had a government entity in place to make that happen since 1997, which perhaps should serve as a dash of cold water to anyone who might feel overly optimistic about a Houston-Galveston line happening. But as Ben Wear reports, there may be some progress happening there as well.

As of last month, the San Marcos-based government agency hoping someday soon to run passenger trains between Williamson County and San Antonio is now called the Lone Star Rail District. Agency officials have called a news conference for this morning to advertise that fact, and that the train line will be called the LSTAR.

Or perhaps would be called. Because a dozen years after the Legislature authorized it, the train service is still mostly a line on a map. As agency board chairman Sid Covington says, the main obstacles to creating a commuter line between Austin and San Antonio are now and always have been Union Pacific freights and money.

It’s a matter of too much of the first and not enough of the latter.

[…]

All is not smoke, however. The district, after existing on $7.7 million in congressional earmarks for several years, now has a commitment for $40 million over the next four years from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and its San Antonio counterpart. That money will be used for design and a study required for federal environmental clearance of the project. That study should begin early next year.

More from the Express News:

“Passenger rail is coming to San Antonio, Austin and the I-35 corridor,” said Tullos Wells, vice chairman of the district’s board of directors. “We’re going to make it happen.”

[…]

District officials estimate it would cost about $800 million to build a fully functional passenger system.

But the regional rail service can only be realized if Union Pacific relocates its freight trains to a proposed bypass line that would remove through-freight trains from urban centers. Officials estimate the cost of a bypass from the South Side of San Antonio to Taylor would be about $1.7 billion.

“The rail relocation is the key to it. If you don’t move the freight out, forget really having a good first-class passenger service,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.

Wells said he hopes the LSTAR could begin offering “preliminary service” as early as 2012 or 2013.

“Yes, it’s ambitious,” he said. “But it’s doable.”

It’s something, at least. This kind of line makes all kinds of sense – I-35 between Austin and San Antonio is woefully crowded, having New Braunfels and San Marcos in between would be a big boost to ridership, the corridor is growing rapidly – so perhaps this is a sign that something will finally happen. You can see a map with potential station locations at that link. The On the Move blog and the Austin Post have more.