AUSTIN, Texas - The transportation vision presented Monday seemed to impress members of Austin's City Council and Cap Metro's Board of Directors. The magnitude of what's being proposed was not lost on Mayor Steve Adler.
"My overwhelming thought is I wish we had started this 8 years ago,” said Adler.
An artist concept of the Republic Square Station downtown transit tunnel with a platform concept
Major parts of Cap Metro’s Project Connect include:
- Dedicated fast track bus lanes.
- Two lines of light rail, with the orange line traveling from Tech Ridge to downtown to Slaughter Lane, and the blue going from downtown to the Airport
- An underground tunnel between Republic Square and the convention center
A big question that came up during the briefing was whether or not the project would really reduce congestion and commute times.
"Tech Ridge to Republic Square, one hour in a car, 33 minutes on a train. South Congress Transit Center to UT would be 33 minutes in a car and 25 minutes on the Orange line and Airport to downtown, rush hour in a car, 45 minutes. On a Blue Line train 22 minutes,” said CEO Randy Clarke.
Project Connect would be built in phases. Some aspects, like expanding commuter rail, could take 30 years to complete. Others could happen much sooner, as much of the light rail portion is targeted for a possible 2028 opening. Cap Metro board member Eric Stratton was initially worried about how long the build out would be.
An artist concept of a center platform design for the proposed light rail
"Something I've heard in the community is, wait a minute, we are paying for this now and not seeing anything until 2040, 2050, but that’s encouraging we could actually see these improvements the big capital, the big stuff, Orange and Blue lines as soon as 8 to 9 years,” said Stratton.
A public vote would be needed to fund the plan. The council and board were told the nearly $10 billion price tag would mean a tax hike for property owners. That increase would range between $18 to $34 more a month. The higher rate would pay for a faster build out.
"After today I think the question will not be what should we build but how much and how quickly,” said Cap Metro Board Chairman Wade Cooper.
Council members, like Kathie Tovo, who spoke to FOX7, were concerned about the price, but not enough to be immediate no votes.
"I look forward to hearing from my constituents, I’m always guided by their reactions and responses, but I represent a district that is supportive of having more mobility options, in the past, and I myself am very supportive so I would certainly be inclined to a year vote at this point,” said Tovo.
Artist concept of Park & Ride station courtesy plaza
Councilmember Greg Casar, who has pushed housing affordability as a major issue for him, says he is interested in the possibility the tax hike will go down as the city population goes up.
“We still have to look at the projects because I believe that given the fact that downtown continues to build more and more buildings, that will significantly mitigate the cost on to everyone else, and that’s part of the analysis we are looking at, and the cost of doing nothing is also really significant,” said Casar.
A vote by the council is expected to take place in May. If they approve the project, the plan is expected to go to voters on the November ballot.