AUSTIN, Texas - A massive transportation project is being debated.
On Wednesday, CapMetro hosted a Q&A on their “Project Connect,” and the “Texas Public Policy Foundation” held a panel on it.
On Monday, in a joint session with Austin City Council, and CapMetro, City Staff recommended a $7.1 billion investment in the transit authority’s Project Connect. The project will build and/or improve light and commuter rails, park and rides, and buses, and create a downtown transit tunnel. $3.85 billion will come from Austin if the council places the project on the November ballot, and voters support it. 45 percent of the funding is estimated to come from Federal Transit Authority grants.
“This was a decision of how much to invest in this initial action,” said CapMetro President and CEO Randy Clarke, who says CapMetro remains committed to its original plan, which came with a $10 billion estimate.
Jim Skaggs of the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation says the project needs transparency, something Clarke says CapMetro is committed to.
“So, their intent is to vote on it in segments -- and they wanted to get as big a segment as possible to start with. And they thought 10, you know, when they started was a good number. Now, they think 7 is a good number, but the plan is the same,” said Skaggs.
Clarke says the transit authority hopes to work with UT Austin, Manor, Elgin, TxDOT, and CTRMA to come up with future funding, as they may all be impacted by the project.
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Skaggs says he thinks the pricey plan is dangerous for the region, adding that he is unsure if it is necessary because of COVID-19.
“There has been a total dropout in use of public transit, and all the experts that I've read about in the country are predicting this will result in working at home ranging from 25 percent of the workforce to 75 percent of the workforce. Well, if that occurs then we have solved our traffic problem and we have solved the environment problem,” he said.
Clarke disagrees. ”We're a little over 2 million people as a region. In 20 years we're gonna be 4 million people as a region.” he said, adding “every person moving here in the next 20 years would have to work at home to have the horrible traffic we had in February, and obviously, everyone can't work from home.”
Skaggs and James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation argue much of the growth is regional: on the outskirts of Austin and in its suburbs.
“You're going to have folks who live on the periphery of Austin, effectively subsidizing those in the downtown core. So, people who live on the outskirts are gonna be dumping a lot of money so that rich liberal elites in the downtown can enjoy a downtown subway system,” said Quintero.
“Transit is beyond important for our essential workers and individuals that truly need better access to healthcare, to education and jobs,” said Clarke.
To learn more about Project Connect, and view the System Map Plan and Regional Perspective, click here.