Economic competitiveness

Transportation and mobility impact not only our city’s environment and community health outcomes, but also serve as key economic development tools. Although often distant from our everyday lives, freight transportation is an important aspect of our system and is an important driver of our economic success. Freight moves through our city by roadway and rail.

Seven major railroad lines pass through San Antonio, all operated by Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR). Major rail yards are located at Port San Antonio, and along I-35 south of Fort Sam Houston. San Antonio’s proximity to the I-35 and I-10 corridors is a great economic asset with regard to movement of goods. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has greatly increased the movement of freight between Texas and Mexico, the state’s largest trading partner. Major freight rail and highway corridors originating on the Texas border in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley all converge in and pass through San Antonio. Trade between Texas and Mexico has increased in recent years and is expected to continue to place additional demands on the City’s transportation infrastructure.

The recent growth and activity associated with the energy sector has also contributed to an increase of freight traffic. Drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale formation, primarily in counties south of San Antonio such as Karnes and Atascosa, has increased dramatically over the last several years. The Eagle Ford Shale formation produces over a million barrels of oil per day (Texas Railroad Commission). San Antonio is the nearest major city to the Eagle Ford Shale, located less than an hour away from the northern edge of the oil field. Major truck and rail corridors from the region pass through San Antonio. Many companies operating in the Eagle Ford, such as Halliburton and Baker Hughes, have now located in San Antonio. The large number of trucks and employees needed to drill and maintain oil wells has increased traffic on the highways heading to and from the south such as I-37 and US Highway 181.

Finally, as described in earlier parts of this chapter, an integrated and well-designed multimodal network is an important economic development tool. San Antonio’s current urban form—defined for the most part by low-density, single-use developments connected by an auto-centric transportation system—does not offer the kind of places that will attract today’s young, skilled, innovative workers. Continuing with the status quo and perpetuating the same basic development types and patterns that have dominated the city over the past few decades will all but ensure San Antonio’s inability to become a center of innovation and creative industry.

Instead, we must plan for and encourage the creation of more neighborhoods and districts that offer the density, mix of uses, mobility options and amenities that draw skilled millennial workers, retiring baby boomers and many other segments of the population that crave a sustainable, walkable, and human-scaled place to live. San Antonio should continue with traditional business attraction efforts, and we also need to add the additional layer of strategic and holistic thinking about what will help bring targeted industries and businesses to the city. In this sense, the land use, urban design, and mobility goals and policies that punctuate almost every plan element are also economic development policies. To be successful, we do not need to retrofit the entire city, and the status quo of city form dominated by an auto-centric transportation system and few places with true urban amenities will no longer work. The goals and policies articulated for this and other plan elementss must address these challenges and work towards creating and linking great places to live, work and play.