What if we imagine a better public transportation system?

My first flight to San Antonio was on Trans Texas Airways, affectionately known as Tree Top Airways. Without a gangway, I walked down the stairs of the plane to a hot tarmac in a building that was nothing more than a counter / baggage claim area. We’ve come a long way, but my travels across the United States tell me we have a long way to go.

City council has now approved a 20-year plan to improve San Antonio International Airport, which is necessary for a city destined to double in size by 2040. As a native of Harris County, I have seen a similar demographic explosion.

Since arriving here in 1981, I have made over 200 round trips from the San Antonio airport. Having lived near San Pedro Springs Park and now near McAllister Park, I take advantage of the proximity to the airport, a 20 minute drive away. Yes, when the southerly wind blows I sometimes hear airport noise, but the airport existed before our neighborhood, and my air conditioner muffles most airplane noise. Although my flying days are drawing to a close, I am happy that my grandchildren are benefiting from the work and vision of many.

As Elon Musk contemplates a tunnel to downtown, I doubt he was ever trapped in the Baytown-LaPorte tunnel in the Houston area for more than an hour due to an accident. I was not claustrophobic before this event.

How many large cities have an airport near their population epicenter? I applaud the decision to expand rather than relocate our airport. Given that, I have a series of “what if” questions:

What if we imagine San Antonio decades away, not just 2040? What if we really re-imagined our entire transit system?

What if, instead of using an appropriately named Boring Co. tunnel under our city, we negotiated with Union Pacific, or UP, to build rapid transport from the airport to Centro Plaza, where more than a million d do VIA embarkations already take place every year, transporting San Antonians to all parts of the city?

By double-bridging the existing UP tracks, we would not have to compete with freight rail traffic. Yes, it is more expensive to raise, but what if UP negotiated a fair deal – years of condemnation and costly land delays would be avoided, resulting in a win-win situation for taxpayers of San Antonio, thus reducing the years of construction.

What if our streetcar mimicked Denver’s 24-mile ride from the desolate prairies to its vintage downtown rail station, where passengers take the 16th Street shuttle? San Antonio International Airport is only a third of its length – about 8 miles – to connect to a much more comprehensive transit infrastructure. What if we emulate the elevated transit system from the airport to downtown Vancouver?

What if VIA’s downtown Scobey complex developed its potential as a welcome center for boarding tourists from all corners of the world?

What if we built an infrastructure system under the new runway? My union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, represented some workers at Disney World, and I worked in the utilidor infrastructure under the Magic Kingdom. The enlarged airport will be practically landlocked; What if luggage storage, car rental agencies, etc. were underground?

With US 281, Loop 410 and Wurzbach Parkway modified for easier entry and exit, what if improvements to Wetmore Road created opportunities for economic development and good jobs near the airport?

The airport master plan states: “As public transport becomes more available, more convenient and more frequent, the need for parking at airport facilities will also decrease. Incorporating a transit hub with service to / from downtown will further reduce parking demand.

Rapid transit to downtown will help reduce parking needs and congestion, but what if a transit hub were built under the new track? What if it included not only a VIA transfer station, but also platforms for all bus lines serving the United States and Mexico, as well as the commuter buses which will increase with our population? The 70-year-old New York Port Authority bus terminal is the busiest in the world. What if we had such an incredibly efficient system?

What if, instead of trying to catch up with a chronically underfunded transit agency, we learn from Austin and Houston, who take quality of life issues like climate change, traffic jams and rising fuel prices, and gearing up for our future grandchildren in perpetuity?

Bob Comeaux is a member of the board of directors of VIA. These are his opinions only and do not reflect those of VIA.

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