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Three “incontrovertible facts” about urban rail proposals in Austin

2 August 2014
ACC's map from its own website (annotated by Austin Rail Now) shows ACC campus (marked with inverted blue "teardrop" with MetroRail's Highland station at its northwest corner.

ACC’s map from its own website (annotated by Austin Rail Now) shows ACC campus (marked with inverted blue “teardrop”) with MetroRail’s Highland station at its northwest corner.

By Andrew Clements

The following commentary has been slightly adapted from an original Letter to the Editor published July 21st by the Austin Chronicle.

On June 26th, the City Council endorsed Project Connect’s urban rail line route. Public testimony was limited, but I would have pointed out three incontrovertible facts.

(1) The first is that the approved route terminates at the old Highland Mall, with no plans to extend any further. Every initial line, as part of any transit system, should have plans to be extended, but this one isn’t. Terminating Austin’s initial urban rail line there is proven illogical by no plans to extend it.

(2) And doubly illogical because, second, the entire proposed redevelopment is already served by passenger rail. As shown in ACC’s own map at the top of this post (with annotations by ARN), the Highland station on the MetroRail Red Line is within a half-mile of the entire Highland Mall site – the distance passengers are willing to walk in a transit trip.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a tunnel, and placing new rail on Airport Boulevard (paralleling, only a few feet away, the already existing Red Line passenger rail) to reach a planned redevelopment already served by voter-approved (and funded) passenger rail is a very expensive double service.


Closeup of Highland ACC segment of Project Connect's proposed urban rail map shows how the proposed urban rail line (orange) would effectively duplicate the existing MetroRail Red Line paralleling Airport Blvd. (MetroRail drawn as red line, with Highland station shown as red dot near top of map). Project Connect line would terminate at ACC administration building on far east side of campus, with no plans for extension, and no available corridor for extension. Map: Screenshot by ARN, from Project Connect map.

Closeup of Highland ACC segment of Project Connect’s proposed urban rail map shows how the proposed urban rail line (orange) would effectively duplicate the existing MetroRail Red Line paralleling Airport Blvd. (MetroRail drawn as red line, with Highland station shown as red dot near top of map). Project Connect line would terminate at ACC administration building on far east side of campus, with no plans for extension, and no available corridor for extension. Map: Screenshot by ARN, from Project Connect map.


(3) Third, the projected ridership for the Guadalupe/North Lamar light rail route, considered by voters in 2000, was twice what is proposed now. Higher ridership indicates overall success of a rail line, which means federal funding is more likely, with a likelihood of more voter support of the next urban rail line. Guadalupe and North Lamar is where millions of dollars were spent, in 1999-2000, in an already approved federal study determining where rail should be.


Screenshot from Federal Transit Administration's New Start summary table of Capital Metro's 2000 urban rail (light rail transit) plan. Projected daily ridership (circled in red) of 37,400 is more than double the 18,000 Project Connect claims for its current Highland-Riverside proposal — and more than triple a more realistic figure of 12,000. Annotation: ARN.

Screenshot from Federal Transit Administration’s New Start summary table of Capital Metro’s 2000 Guadalupe-Lamar urban rail (light rail transit) plan. Projected daily ridership (circled in red) of 37,400 is more than double the 18,000 Project Connect claims for its current Highland-Riverside proposal — and more than triple a more realistic figure of 12,000. Annotation: ARN.


Mayor Leffingwell has coined the phrase “rail or fail”. A November referendum will likely fail, because the mayor has unfortunately led a special-interest-dominated effort that has not considered neighborhood and rail advocate voices, but instead a process where the data has been manipulated to a point where the result is anything but objective. Rail advocates like me hope that following a likely November referendum failure, we can immediately begin planning, and achieving, rail on Guadalupe/North Lamar. ■

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5 comments

  1. 1. “no plans to extend any further. ” Not true. http://youtu.be/vurv0xyvmrY (linked from http://www.projectconnect.com/central-corridor-urban-rail) shows a possible extension of that line north. So there are “plans” to extend from there as much as there are anywhere else, lines on a map that would still need planning/vetting/modeling/etc.

    2. “already served by passenger rail” you do realize that using that logic, your proposed Lamar urban rail line shouldn’t extend as far north as Crestview and shouldn’t reach downtown, since both are “already served” by the metrorail. The two rails are complementary, not conflicting. They serve different user bases and commuting watersheds.

    ” within a half-mile of the entire Highland Mall site – the distance passengers are willing to walk in a transit trip”. .6 miles between the two stations, so obviously some parts of the site will be _much_ better served by one station or the other. Particularly, Park and Ride in that NorthEast corner will be (just barely) outside of that .5 mile radius (and .5 is probably way too high for a mid-journey mode switch/transfer anyway).

    3. For the most part, we’ve discussed this to death in those other articles. But on the particular point of: “Higher ridership indicates overall success of a rail line, which means federal funding is more likely, ” So what are you worried about? If the feds deny funding for the proposed plan, it would be back to drawing board anyway.


  2. Thank you for continuing to bring this information to the voters.

    At the end of the day, there are 2 questions we need to be asking ourselves:

    1. When are we going to get a straight answer on the “proposed ridership”?

    http://www.lovenorthaustin.com/new-page/jmvc_atx-why-should-voters-believe-the-projected-2030-ridership-numbers-for-east-austin-rail

    2. Are we really ready to saddle Austinites with a staggering tax increase for a plan that “may” have ridership of 16,000.(Sorry, 18,000, no wait, 11,000) in 2030?

    http://austinaffordability.com/2014/07/30/rail-bond-vote-would-bring-historic-tax-increase/

    Regards,
    Mary Rudig
    Editor -North Austin Community Newsletter
    http://www.lovenorthaustin.com
    http://www.facebook.com/love.northaustin
    twitter.com/lovenorthaustin


  3. Once again the Austin voter is asked to “trust the experts” and forgo the logical results of an intelligent and rational assessment of the traffic problems that have impacted a developer centric Austin growth for dollars vision of Austin’s Future. The Battle for Austin’s Soul continues with a “Project Connect” that connects little, provides less than a reasonable civic return for investment (much liker the trolley to nowhere did, requiring an enormous subsidy to reduce fares at the expense of our disabled, our seniors,) our most vulnerable citizens that we once thought worthy of our care. Even today, years after the Trolley line was completed and fares lowered, neither ridership or income come close to initial projections. So much for the expertise of Austin’s hired guns. If we believe the pie-in-the-sky “expert estimates” in view of past experience, we shall reap the harvest of our own willful blindness.

    We fought for 10-1 because we didn’t believe the downtown centric myopia of our civic leaders was an accurate reflection of the Austin electorate at large. Will it be the democratic panacea we hoped for? Possibly not, but the rush to execute the bond issue before the will of the people is given a chance to be heard is a reflection of the power elite’s fear that the playing field may be altered just enough that their most cherished public give-a-ways will become jeopardized, endangered by more rational thought and a real commitment to represent the interests of the populace, as opposed to the current wisdom of endorsing the wishes of the real estate and financial interests at the expense of…. You fill in the blank.

    We have an opportunity to slow or stop the bloodsucking bandwagon of Corporatism, Political Dollar Expediency, Elite Pandering Favoritism, and reinstitute the longed-for dream of civic responsibility and service to all of the people in all of the neighborhoods across our city. Stop the Publicly Funded Steamroller while there’s still time. Like the fictional populace of another time and another city, rear up on you feet and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.”


  4. Given the overall level of confusion, degree of misinformation and/or apparent efforts to generally mislead Citizens, voters & taxpayers, it would seem best to delay action on Project Connect ’til clarification – or to demand an independent and much more indepth cost-benefit analysis before final voter approval. Furthermore, many are of the opinion that the real need is for an independent fiscal audit and/or inquiry covering both City of Austin & Travis County operations.


  5. Vote!

    The use of taxpayer funds to lobby taxpayers for more money is deplorable. The light rail as proposed will have no significant impact on Austin traffic and is a waste of money.

    The “road” part is actually more dubious rail spending masquerading as highway upgrades. Do we really need road upgrades at Riverside and 183 where few even go. What about Ben White/360 at Mopac or the Y in Oak Hill, etc.? Their road spending fails to address any of the key congestion points in Austin’s commute.

    What kind of madness exists in the minds of our city leaders? Their ‘mobility plan’ is an impotent joke and if passed will be a huge mistake that diverts money and focus away from effective solutions.

    Vote!



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