TEXAS VIEW: State reversal on Broadway runs over city

THE POINT: The state has crushed plans to redevelop the Broadway corridor. It’s a bad move, trampling local control and undercutting private investment.

One of the prevailing criticisms of state officials is how they are quick to push back against the federal government as overreach, only to then trample on local control.

Such hypocrisy hit home when the Texas Transportation Commission — led by San Antonio banker J. Bruce Bugg — voted 3-1 last Thursday to crush a city plan to redevelop the Broadway corridor north of downtown.

Even worse, this plan had the overwhelming approval of San Antonio voters. To sink the overhaul is to undercut significant private investment in our city core. The Broadway corridor is rapidly developing, and many private investors have included the planned changes to Broadway in their calculations. That’s shameful, especially in Texas, which prides itself on being good for business.

Even worse is the disregard for voters. Redevelopment of Broadway was the signature piece of the 2017 city bond. Voters here agreed to dedicate $42 million to this project with a plan to turn what is technically a state highway into a “complete street.” This would mean fewer traffic lanes, protected bike paths and wider sidewalks. It’s the kind of street setting that helps urban areas grow and thrive while also prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian safety.

We were all in on this project, writing in December 2016: “The Broadway corridor, north of downtown, will be enhanced to better serve bicycle riders and pedestrians. It’s the right kind of streetscape for residents of that booming area. Anyone who has been to the Pearl can feel the infectious creative energy there.

“And we want more creative spirit in San Antonio — not less.”

Until this vote, the state had been supportive of the plan. As Express-News journalist Brian Chasnoff outlined, the Texas Department of Transportation has been with the city on this for years.

In 2014, TxDOT began the process of transferring the roadway to the city, although this was never completed, a haunting technicality.

In 2016, a TxDOT engineer signed a letter supporting the city’s plan and pledging $5 million.

In 2017, the city brought this project to voters, thanks to support from the state, and voters approved it.

But the state has since developed concerns about congestion. Bugg, citing a 2015 directive from Gov. Greg Abbott, said the state had to stop the redevelopment because the plan reduces traffic lanes.

“What we’re trying to do is stay consistent with our congestion relief initiative and not go backwards by reducing capacity,” he said.

A few points to consider: First, the reduction in traffic lanes is hardly a surprise. It’s been that way all along. The idea was to create space for pedestrians and bike riders. Second, as Assistant City Manager Jeff Coyle said at the meeting, studies have shown congestion would decrease along the corridor and safety would increase.

For the state to support the project, make a sudden reversal, run over voters and undercut private development is untenable. The city has spent millions on design work for this project — for nothing.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweeted: “Deeply disappointed in the vote, but we hope the State is serious about ‘working together’ to finish the project.”

Funny, until last week we thought that’s what was happening.

San Antonio Express-News