Posts Tagged ‘Proposition A 2020’

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Support Project Connect mass transit plan in this crisis? Definitely Yes

31 October 2020

Simulation of light rail train serving ABIA airport station. Source: Project Connect.


The $7.1 billion Project Connect mass transit plan – with two electric light rail lines, intersecting in a downtown subway, plus a network of vastly expanded and upgraded bus lines, running a new fleet of electric buses, and a new extension of the MetroRail diesel-powered light railway – is certainly Austin’s most ambitious mass transit plan to date, and possibly the most ambitious initial urban rail starter system yet proposed for any U.S. city. It represents the culmination of nearly 50 years of planning and intrepid effort by grassroots transit advocates, and unity between those who favored urban rail in an eastside-ABIA route and those favoring a central “spine” following the Guadalupe-Lamar and South Congress corridors.

To fund the local share of Project Connect, the City of Austin has placed Proposition A on the ballot, seeking voter approval of a substantial increase in the municipal property tax rate. City and Capital Metro (transit authority) leaders and planners expect federal funds to supplement nearly half of the investment cost of the plan.

Unfortunately, the Prop. A vote occurs as Austin, and of course the entire USA, writhes in the midst of a disastrous pandemic and concomitant deep economic and social crisis. Mass unemployment, widespread small business failures, rising evictions, foodbanks overwhelmed by mile-long queues of families – these are among the signals of massive distress, perhaps surpassing the Great Depression of the 1930s. Under these conditions, it’s understandable that even some otherwise firm, longtime supporters of public transport are hesitant or reluctant to embrace Prop. A and the tax measure

But in this very context of distress, now is precisely the crucial time to launch a massive public-works project like Project Connect to help resuscitate a semi-collapsed economy and provide a wide variety of new job opportunities. Furthermore, such an infusion of public funds will almost certainly have a multiplier effect – in particular, putting money in people’s pockets to support the many restaurants and other small businesses currently struggling to stay afloat.

While Prop. A would authorize a city tax rate increase averaging about 20%, that affects just a portion of total property taxes (Travis County, AISD, etc.); thus the total rate increase would amount to only about 4%. (See graph below.) Nevertheless, the hard reality is that, dollarwise, for most of us, this is a very hefty tax increase, averaging several hundred dollars for typical homeowners. In other words, in dollar terms the increase would be about as much as a typical monthly car payment.


Actual impact of property tax rate change would average about 4% increase in total taxes. Source: City of Austin.


But that that same ballpark amount for the “transit tax” would be an annual amount, not a monthly cost. In other words, the transit “payment” would be roughly 1/12 of the total annual payments on a typical car loan. (Of course, the car loan probably gets paid off in 4-5 years, but then at some point you’ve got to take out another one to replace your old car.)

So what do we get for the 1/12th of a car loan payment? With the major new flow of revenue, besides the new light rail lines (and subway) – including a rail connection to the ABIA airport – Capital Metro plans to increase frequency on virtually all bus routes, making them more accessible and feasible to use. There would be many more park & ride facilities to help with access to transit. Additional MetroRapid bus routes, with high-frequency service throughout the day, would be added and extended across the city.

By far one of the most useful innovations, especially for more outlying suburban areas and other neighborhoods with less access to fixed-route services, is the expansion of the “pickup-circulator” minibus/van system into 15 new zones – a system currently operating experimentally that functions somewhat like Uber/Lyft, but at far lower cost, to connect homes or other origins with major transit stops or other destinations. This service might not totally eliminate the need for a car, but it might reduce total driving (thus maintenance costs) and possibly eliminate the need for a second car in some households.

Certainly, this is a very difficult time for a big tax rate increase, and no matter when, it would be burdensome for most of us. However, let’s keep in mind that the rate hike would most likely begin with the 2021 assessment, probably becoming due sometime in early 2022. Hopefully we will all be climbing out of this disaster by then, and a major new Project Connect public works project would be injecting essential jobs and cash into the economy to help with the process of revitalization.

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Project Connect Plan Can Lead the Way Toward Regional Electric Light Rail System

30 September 2020

Austin metro area is a regional area and needs a complete, comprehensive, fully interlined regional electric light rail system for adequate, cost-effective mobility. Map: ARN, from Google Maps.

By Lyndon Henry

The following statement by Lyndon Henry, a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project and contributing editor to Austin Rail Now (ARN), was presented as part of Public Comment by phone on 7 August 2020 to a joint meeting of the Austin City Council and Capital Metro Board considering approval of an Interlocal Agreement and incorporation measure to implement a proposed Austin Transit Partnership to manage the proposed Capital Metro/Project Connect multi-modal transit system expansion project. The $7.1 billion multi-modal transit system plan, with two initial light rail lines, will be presented on the ballot for voter approval as Proposition A in the upcoming election on 3 November 2020. (The complete Project Connect long-range plan includes three eventual light rail lines as well as other regional rail services and various bus-based services.)

I’m Lyndon Henry. I’m an urban planner and transportation planning consultant, a former Capital Metro Board member, and a former data analyst for Capital Metro.

The Project Connect plan, centered on an urban rail system and anchored by a light rail spine along the key North Lamar-Guadalupe-South Congress Orange Line corridor, would basically implement the mass transit vision I’ve been advocating for the past 49 years. In pursuit of that vision, I participated in creating Capital Metro, served four years on its board, and later worked for the agency for nine years.

Starting in the 1970s, I initiated an effort to acquire, for rail transit use, the former Southern Pacific Railroad branch line from Giddings to Llano, the western part of which is in operation today as the Metrorail Red Line. I’ve also been continuously active over four decades as a community participant in the urban rail planning process, including Project Connect.

From its inception Capital Metro was conceived as a regional system with rail transit to serve both suburban and central-city neighborhoods of the Austin metro area. The Project Connect plan, with its three light rail lines, can be a major step toward fulfilment of that original intention to connect Austin’s more outlying neighborhoods with one another and the central city.

Expanding electric light rail is crucial to that regional vision. This can be done relatively easily and cost-effectively.

First, the Metrorail Red Line and proposed Green Line can be converted to faster, more cost-effective, high-capacity electric light rail service for the northwest and eastern sections of the metro area..

Second, the former Katy railroad right-of-way is a natural alignment to link eastern and northeastern suburbs and communities into central Austin.

Third, in south and southeast Austin, the former Bergstrom spur right-of-way offers an excellent route for an additional light rail line directly linking the ABIA airport with the Union Pacific rail corridor, South First St., the South Congress Transit Center, and neighborhoods east of I-35 along the Ben White/US 71 corridor.

I strongly support approving the Interlocal Agreement and incorporation measure to implement the proposed Austin Transit Partnership, and the funding commitments, toward the goal of building the regional highspeed electric light rail network that Austin has needed for so long.