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.
(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.
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. ■