AUSTIN, Texas - Austin voters decided to approve Proposition A or Project Connect, a potential solution for traffic, mobility, and climate change.
"With the passage of Proposition A, voters have given the green light to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize our transportation infrastructure and provide people in our community with a safe, reliable way to get around," said Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk. "Project Connect will be better for our residents' health, the environment, our safety, and our economic prosperity. Now, in partnership with the community, we are ready to begin the hard work to make this vision a reality."
For too long Austin's rapidly growing population has outpaced transportation options, leading to clogged roads, angry commuters, and a handful of failed mobility propositions. Austin City Council says moving forward with a new plan, known as Project Connect or Prop A, is the best solution to the city's traffic woes.
However, voters would need to approve a tax hike at a time when people are already pinching pennies in order for construction on the transit plan to hit the gas.
The $7.1 billion project would include four new rapid bus routes, a light rail system that includes an underground downtown transfer hub, nine park and ride facilities, and housing assistance for families displaced by growth.
CapMetro says the Project Connect new rail system would connect North and South Austin, provide a direct link to the airport, through downtown and to South Congress, while extending to East Austin's Colony Park.
The light rail was recommended as the primary mode of transit for the proposed Orange, Blue, and Gold lines and also envisions light rail going underground downtown. The light rail would consist of high-capacity transit vehicles accommodating up to four times more passengers per trip than a standard bus, says CapMetro.
The 21-mile Orange Line connects North and South Austin with 22 stations running from TechRidge to Slaughter along the North Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, connecting the UT campus and downtown before crossing Lady Bird Lake and traveling along South Congress to Slaughter Lane, says CapMetro.
The 15-mile Blue Line light rail would connect 20 stations, running from downtown to the Airport providing service along East Riverside Drive across Lady Bird Lake to the Convention Center and west on 4th Street to Republic Square, then along the Orange Line's path to US 183 and North Lamar.
The plan also calls for a Downtown Transit Tunnel to separate the light rail from street traffic, connecting at underground stations at Republic Square and other downtown locations. These stations are planned to include such amenities as retail, restaurants, and a transit store and service center, says CapMetro.
An artist concept of the Republic Square Station downtown transit tunnel with a platform concept (Capital Metro)
Project Connect also calls for improvements to the Red Line, adding stops at the Domain and the new Austin FC stadium at McKalla Place. In addition to expanding the Red Line, the plan proposes a 27-mile Green Line commuter rail from downtown to eastern Travis County and into Bastrop County, connecting Manor with downtown Austin. CapMetro says with new transit hubs and Park & Rides, the Green Line would operate along the existing freight line between Austin and Manor, with a possible extension to Elgin.
Also in the Project Connect plan is what CapMetro calls "Bus Rapid Transit," or high-capacity transit vehicles operating on dedicated transit-only lanes that operate free from street traffic. CapMetro says the initial investment would build the Gold Line first as a MetroRapid bus service. The system plan eventually envisions the Gold Line as a 9.5-mile light rail connecting 15 stations from ACC's Highland campus along Airport Blvd. and Red River into downtown, across the river, and down South Congress.
An artist rendering of the light rail and bus rapid transit vehicles (Capital Metro)
In addition to the Gold Line, CapMetro is looking at adding three new MetroRapid routes to provide frequent service with a limited number of stops. New corridors would include the Expo Center from East Austin to UT and downtown; Pleasant Valley from Mueller to the Goodnight Ranch Park & Ride; and Burnet from The Domain to Menchaca and Oak Hill.
The Project Connect plan also includes nine new Park & Rides, a new transit center, 15 new neighborhood zones for Circulators, and three new MetroExpress commuter routes.
Federal funding is expected to cover about 45 percent of the cost with property tax revenue covering the other $3.55 billion-plus ongoing operations and maintenance. In July, Cap Metro's Board and City Council unanimously adopted resolutions to support an initial investment of $7.1 billion, including $300 million total for transit-related anti-displacement strategies.
On Election Day, voters will decide whether a tax increase will pay for the project at a rate that is 8.75 cents higher per 100 dollar valuation than the current tax rate. That's about a 300 dollar increase in taxes for the median homeowner.
The tax rate increase is only for the City of Austin property tax rate. Home and business owners also have to pay property taxes for Austin ISD, Travis County, Austin Community College, and Central Health.
City leaders tout the plan as a way to create jobs, reduce emissions, and provide access to school, work, and the airport. The 27-mile light rail system, expanded electric bus service, and added park and ride facilities could take decades to complete, but once finished will connect east to west and north to south.
However, local business owners have expressed concerns about the property tax increase, especially during a pandemic when many of them were closed or operated at reduced capacities for months this year.
Here is the list of some notable names and tax hike estimates, according to Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty:
- $1000 more for Juan in A Million
- $1500 increase for Dirty Martin’s
- $1600 increase for Amy’s Ice Cream on Burnet Road
- $3200 increase for Home Slice on 53rd Street
- $3,000 increase for Esther’s Follies
The fate of the $7.1 billion project is in the hands of the voters now.