Austin’s $10B transit package with new light-rail lines drives forward

Austin City Council and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority have put the city on track for a nearly $ 10 billion traffic overhaul, including three new light rail lines.

With the approval of the long-debated Project Connect plan on June 11, executives from the city of Austin and Capital Metro set a course for a massive transformation of the local transportation system.

A major part of the 30-year plan would be the addition of three light rail lines that would meander through the city. More than 60 km of light rail would connect North Austin and South Austin to downtown Austin and the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (To view maps of suggested light rail routes, visit the Project Connect website.)

In addition, the existing MetroRail commuter line, which now runs from Leander to downtown Austin, would be modernized and a second commuter line added. In addition, bus traffic across the city would be expanded with a fleet of zero-emission electric buses.

The traffic redesign also includes a downtown tunnel that would separate CapMetro’s light rail lines from road traffic.

“Project Connect is an opportunity for generations to transform this city to better serve the public. We must achieve this for the climate, for our air, for transit justice, for important workers and for the common good, ”said Bay Scoggin, director of TexPIRG, a non-profit consumer protection group, at a joint meeting of the city council and CapMetro card.

More than half ($ 5.4 billion) of the $ 9.8 billion Project Connect initiative would be paid for through an increase in Austin property taxes. For the typical Austin homeowner, the annual tax increase would be $ 358. A survey by the Sherry Matthews Group, an Austin marketing firm, found that 71 percent of Austin residents would support the initiative, although it could lead to a tax hike.

The remainder of the funding ($ 4.4 billion) would come from the federal government. Austin voters are expected to weigh the plan in a November tax referendum. The city council has a deadline of August 12 to decide whether to include the referendum in the November election.

The City of Austin and CapMetro are preparing to set up a body – the Austin Transit Partnership – to oversee local and federal funding for the project.

“Austin needs a transformative mobility plan more than ever, and we’ve finally got one – created and adopted by our entire community. This comprehensive transit system will make our city fairer and help us fight climate change and reduce congestion, ”tweeted Mayor Steve Adler on June 11th.

In the past 20 years, Austin voters have rejected proposals for light rail vehicles twice. In 2000, voters narrowly rejected the establishment of a light rail system. Four years later, Austin voters supported the establishment of a regional commuter rail line, which began operations in 2010. This line runs on an existing railway line. In 2014, Austin voters again rejected the creation of a light rail system.

While Project Connect enjoys widespread support from elected officials, transportation advocates, and business leaders, opposition has emerged. A new Austin-based political action committee called Our Mobility Our Future criticizes the transit plan as a “costly burden” – tax hikes and gentrification – based on inefficient railroad lines that do not fully meet the needs of East Austin residents.

Our Mobility Our Future is a coalition of business owners, taxpayers, homeowners, tenants, parents, community activists, current and former elected officials, data analysts and transportation policy experts.

“We are at the crossroads of an affordability crisis and a traffic nightmare,” the group says on their website. “We need a smart, forward-looking plan that will maximize the impact for all commuters without burdening our future.”

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