If you’re like me, deciding whether or not to vote for Austin’s light rail and road bond, Prop 1, has been challenging.
There are countless op-eds, endorsements and disapprovals from Austin publications and citizens to sift through, and just when you think you’ve made up your mind, you read an article that changes it.
I’ve been asking my friends what their thoughts are on Prop 1, and they’ve sent me a slew of helpful articles. My Facebook friends are split 50/50, while my Twitters friends are predominantly against it. I’m still formulating my own decision, though I’m leaning towards no. I do think it is a weak and expensive plan for the city overall, but what I take most issue with is the continuation of segregation in Austin with continued development of north-south routes. I live in a neighborhood where it’s difficult, in good conscience, to vote for a bond that will raise property taxes $200+ for individuals who can barely afford them now. The new route will not benefit them (though mass transit is strongly needed in East Austin) and one account says it could be a decade before routes to the eastside materialize. However, I’m still on the fence and open to answers and arguments that quell my concerns. I want what is best for the city and I’m a big supporter/user of rail (Amtrak forever!), but I fear Prop 1 could be another example of Austin not helping minorities.
If you’re in the same situation as me, I’ve created a primer of who is for and against Prop 1 and why. I hope you find this helpful, and I encourage you to share your opinions on Prop 1 in the comment section!
And remember, early voting started yesterday! Exercise your right to vote!
Who is for Prop 1:
(I selected a handful of organization; Let’s Go Austin has an extensive list on their website)
ATX Safer Streets
Burnt Orange Report
Downtown Austin Alliance
Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce
Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Austin Music People
Austin Environmental Democrats
Mayor Lee Leffingwell
Mayoral candidate Mike Martinez
Mayoral candidate Sheryl Cole
Senator Kirk Watson
U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett
Who is against Prop 1:
40 of the 49 current City Councils candidates (updated graph via Amy Hartman)
Austinites for Urban Rail Action (AURA)
The Daily Texan
Travis County Taxpayers Union
Citizens Against Rail Taxes (CART)
Coalition on Sustainable Transportation (COST)
(I truthfully had a much harder time finding businesses, publications and notable people that are against Prop 1; however, many individual people I talk to are against it. Terrifyingly, several conservative groups are also against the light rail expansion.)
Reasons why people are for Prop 1:
–It will help alleviate traffic.
-Austin is growing and needs more transportation options.
–It’s a good first start.
–If we don’t vote for Prop 1, when will we be able to vote on light rail again? (Last time was 2000.)
–We are be offered free money from the government that we should take to get this made.
-The bond also gives $400 million to road improvements.
–Respected Austin organizations and businesses support it.
Reasons why people are against Prop 1:
–It’s too costly.
–It won’t alleviate traffic.
–It’s worse than nothing.
-It’s a bad plan.
–It will raise Austinite’s property taxes hundreds of dollars.
–Not many people will take the light rail.
-It could be many years for additional routes to be built (if at all).
Articles in favor of Prop 1:
-Austin Chronicle: “Most of us believe that the next important step to Austin’s multimodal transportation future is to get started now on a rail system that will slowly but steadily encompass the whole city and link to inter-regional lines (including the growing Red Line).”
-The Burnt Orange Report: “But we think Prop 1 merits support as a good first step — ideally one of many that results in a robust, multi-modal system that gets Austinites out of their cars or at least provides a meaningful alternative.”
-Statesman: “Investing in transportation infrastructure, in exactly the way Proposition 1 does, may be the single best thing we could do for Austin’s low- and moderate-income households.”
-Austin Tech Leaders: “Technology has been a major factor in why we all love Austin – from Dell’s explosive growth and SXSW Interactive to publicly traded companies like HomeAway and startup hubs like Capital Factory. With your support of Proposition 1 in this upcoming election, our industry’s growth will continue to play a positive role in shaping our wonderful city’s future and maintaining our vibrant economy.”
-The Daily Texan: “As a result, every single dollar Austin voters approve for the construction of this route will be matched one-for-one by the federal government. That’s as much as $700 million that would go to another city or even another state if we fail to approve Prop. 1.”
Articles against or questioning Prop 1:
-The Daily Texan: “While Project Connect, the plan’s creator, constantly touts the ‘data-driven’ plan, we question the metrics used in this designation. Project Connect used projected, as opposed to current, density data to drive its route proposal.”
-Austinites for Urban Rail Action (AURA): “Rail helps a transit system when it achieves high ridership, and it hurts the system when it doesn’t. This low-ridership route would drain sorely needed operating funds from buses, decreasing the system’s overall people-moving capacity.”
-Austin Statesman: “Here are a couple of final question to think about: Of the 49 City Council District candidates who have stated their position on the City of Austin’s Proposition 1, why have 44 of them (that’s 90 percent) said they will vote no on this urban rail plan? What do they know that causes them to oppose what the current City Council supports?”
-KUT: “Jeff Wood is with Overhead Wire, a San Francisco-based consulting firm. He says these sorts of projects, despite being billed as traffic-busters, actually create congestion.”
-KUT: “Any expansion of that first light rail line with a second, third, or fourth light rail line would likely need to be funded with additional debt, meaning more property tax increases…By that point, an average value home in Austin could have over $1,000 in additional property taxes annually.”
I’m voting NO for reasons you allude to. The people who need and use public transportation are on the East Side, but due to demographic and economic factors (let’s face it, race and greed) the plan purposefully ignores my community. Segregation and isolation of minorities in Austin needs to stop. It isn’t enough to try and take the vote away from minorities, students, and elderly, now we funnel out transportation money into projects that benefit the wealthiest of us while ignoring those in need?
Texas needs a wake up call.
The rail plan starts from East Riverside — why is that (seemingly) ignored as serving the east side of Austin? I am voting for Prop 1. I think this plus the commuter line that already exists are great initial steps for Austin rail. The property tax increase is only 4% of my total property tax bill…the rest goes to AISD (and I have no children). I’m happy to see that small part of my tax bill go towards a long term solution. Those kids in AISD will eventually ride the rail. And when I’m old enough that I shouldn’t be driving, I’d like a rail solution to get me around. The more places it serves the better it’ll get and here’s the start.
Amanda, excellent question and good point. I think for me, that serves such a small percentage of eastsiders, and it mostly services the hundreds (or thousands) of students that live in the student housing on Riverside (and all the condos that are going up).
Ah, I had thought that the high density and growth that are happening on Riverside was actually a plus for that aspect of the rail path. Does the current commuter rail help some with the other East Austin needs?
What would be a better, denser path through the east side other than the proposed path?
Amanda, the current one does a little bit. It has a stop on MLK and E. 5th & Comal, but the riders will have to go down to the Convention Center to be able to go up to the Capitol/UT etc. with the new plan. Currently the fare is too darn expensive as well, and I’m hoping that will change if the bond does go through (I’ve haven’t found a answer on this yet). I guess it really boils down to where your interests lie. I respect Joseph’s answer below re: having a late-night option for people. It makes sense. The whole thing is overwhelming…
CapMetro has said that they expect it to be a premium service that costs close or the same as the current Red Line.
Thanks for clarifying, Tim!
This is one of those ideas that won’t die. Since West Campus started building high rises and added tons more housing most of the students have moved over there. According to this (http://www.esri.com/data/esri_data/ziptapestry) only 10% are students. A lot of the area is now young people just past college and young families. The area immediately around me no longer has UT shuttle service.
East Riverside is actually the best part of this route and would almost certainly be serviced as part of any initial plan. A pretty decent proportion of hospitality and state workers live in the area, and it’s expected that many of the non-professional positions needed for the new teaching hospital will live in the area. Buses going from East Riverside to downtown are some of the most ridden in town.
Also of note is the fact that since the University Neighborhood Overlay in Central Austin, the population of UT students in East Riverside has actually been decreasing over the past five years in favor of West Campus.
But the reason East Riverside isn’t a big part of the debate is that the City adopted the East Riverside Corridor Master Plan back in 2010 which prioritizes transit-oriented and walkable living spaces for the area – there’s not question about the kinds of developments that are on the docket for this part of town.
There are no such plans for the Airport/Highland/Middle Fiskville areas, and in fact, some of the neighborhood associations in those areas have already come out against Prop 1 and the development that would be necessary to make it a viable route.
The federal funds the rail depend upon don’t exist. They are committed to 29 projects that consume the existing appropriations till 2026. This is all in the committee and P. Rogans report to congress. A likely Republican win in the Senate will doom the New Starts program. Ben Wear did a good story on this in the Statesman. Think!
The deceptive maps promoting rail show a network of transit that amounts to vapor wear. The light rail portion alone is estimated by the Statesman and others at over $6B. Austin doesn’t have anywhere near the bonding capacity to make this lift (remember these bonds last 20-25 yrs). Even if it did, this would result in a $0.40/$100 tax rate increase ($1,200 on the average home). Think!
15 years in the future (2030) Austin will have almost 9 million vehicle trips/day regardless of rail (CAMPO). Project Connect predicts 9,000 round trip passengers/day. You do the math. Think!
The current red line is a massive failure that hemroages millions annually. They spend $37/round trip passenger, just for operating expense. It cost double its inital amount sold to voters and except for a couple ‘rush’ hours, it runs empty – and we want more? Before you tell me how swell it is on SXSW, ACL and Pecan St Fest. Think. That represents 17 days out of 365. Think!
The rail is in the wrong place because powerful developers (Graco Ptnrs, Red Leaf) and the politically connected want it there to sweeten their holdings. Shouldn’t rail be where it has the most passengers and community benefit? Think!
So let me just preface this by saying I’ve got no interest in debating anyone on this topic. If you’re reading this, you’re probably for Prop 1 or against it, and even if you don’t agree with me I think it’s cool that people are so involved in this. That said, here’s why I’m for it: we’re a city that’s built on serving alcohol, whether or not you want to believe that, it’s true. This city is making tens of millions every year on alcohol taxes alone, but provides people very few ways to get home late at night. Whether you’re drinking or you’re working, up until very recently if you needed a ride home at 2AM you have very few options. Way too many people in this city choose to go out and drink and then drive themselves home, which is never ok, but many of them do it because they don’t feel like there are many other options other than just staying home all the time. This rail is planned to run until 2AM on the weekends, and that’s why I support it. This rail is going to serve some very densely populated student areas as well as schools and downtown, so I support it. This rail is going to serve the incredibly crowded area of Southeast Austin where I live, so I support it. If Prop 1 passes and the rail is built, I will use it every single day, and I can’t believe I’m the only one.
UT introduced a designated driving service called Safe Ride a few weeks ago. It picks up UT students from downtown and gives them a free, one-way ride back to their residence – but they have to live in 78741, or 78705. Incidentally those are two zip codes that will also be serviced by the new rail. UT Safe Ride had over 7,000 signups – get this – in their first weekend. So imagine if we had a rail that ran to those same areas, and others, and was available to anyone. I hear people saying there’s not enough demand for a rail that services Riverside, but having lived in this area for the last five years I really can’t believe that. I think there’s a lot of people who would use an urban rail if it were available, and they aren’t people who go to civic meetings or attend town halls, but they’re part of Austin too.
This rail is not going help traffic. Neither will anything else. You can’t reverse traffic congestion, no matter how many train tracks you lay down, or buses you run, or roads you build. You can engineer traffic flow so that it is more consistent and fluid, and you can give people more options to get from point A to point B than just sitting in their cars for 3 hours a day. That’s what this urban rail plan will do, and ideally we can reroute our bus system eventually so that it uses this rail as a backbone, giving people more ways to get around. But if you take 20,000 people off the roads with a light rail, 20,000 more people with cars will step in to fill their place. NYC and DC have some of the best rail systems in the country, but also have the worst traffic as well. This is about giving people options.
Well said and well thought out.
You say that nothing can be done to reverse traffic congestion. I agree that you may be right. However, I find myself wondering if work from home might not help.
I have had a work from home job for five years and I love using the time I would normally use for commuting for other things – fun things, I might add. 🙂
Oh yeah, when I said “nothing” I meant “nothing short of letting people telecommute or encouraging businesses to stagger their hours so that not everyone is on the road at the same time”.
For two years I had an 11am – 8pm job and it was amazing. No traffic, ever, at all.
The face of transit will dramatically change before the first round of rail bonds are paid off. Look at Google car, Tesla autopilot for clues to the future. Inflexible, fixed capacity, fixed route modes of transit will soon be quaint artifacts of the past, with the exception of very high speed, long distance applications. The sad part is; we will still be saddled with their debt long after their usefulness is gone. The smart investor 100 yrs ago in our last transit revolution, didn’t invest in buggy whips. Nor should Austin!
I love your thinking and all that you do!
Can you provide citation for your claim that this rail plan will run until 2 am? I haven’t seen that anywhere (other than people speculating optimistically), and I’ve been following this closely for weeks.
Also, running until 2 am on weekends only? What about the other 5 nights of the week? Do people not drive drunk on those nights? 2 am? That would mean you’d have to leave the bar/concert early to get to the train stop before the last train leaves. And what about the bar staff? They have to drive and look for/pay for parking?
The current Red Line rail that Cap Metro runs doesn’t operate past 7 pm during the week, and only until midnight on Friday & Saturday. It doesn’t operate on Sunday at all. It’s the same tone-deafness they show on most of their bus routes. Why should we expect any different on this plan?
Jack, the current Red Line is a commuter rail that shares tracks with freight rail. Texas State law prevents passenger rail from co-opting freight rail (moving freight cheaply by rail is just that important). The compromise made in the case of the Red line was passengers by day, freight by night – that’s why they can’t expand the hours that it runs. Urban rail will be on it’s own tracks. It’s more expensive to build that way, but it allows the city complete control over frequency and hours of operation.
Alan, you summed up the present freight vs. passenger situation well. Below when you mentioned Highland Park plans, you also addressed a concern about usage.
However, you also exposed the hole that could be a money pit: new rail construction. CapMetro stumbled in applying existing technologies to existing (freight) tracks for just one line — can We-The-Folks trust them to get a whole new thing right?
I asked that Q at a public session recently (Holy Mtn), and heard reassurances that CapMetro has turned a new leaf along with new leadership. Still, nobody had a name or description of the technologies — gas/electric/diesel, etc. (I heard nothing about green tech at all.) We do know that tracks are going to be TWICE as complex as above-ground or in-ground, since this system will use BOTH rail placements.
Is CapMetro fully capable of this engineering and construction? Or will we have our own version of Boston’s Big Dig or Dallas’ Trinity River Tollway, years behind and millions over? A bigger version of the Red Line’s electrical and ties problems?
1.) http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=208540 page 9, shows the plan to run until 2AM. Have seen 2AM plan talked about by Project Connect and Capital Metro officials at meetings I have been to, and some have even said they’re considering running until 3AM. That’s all I’ve got.
2.) Running until 2AM: If it were up to me, I’d want the train to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Probably not realistic, of course, but I really believe people would ride it if they knew it was there anytime they wanted it. I invite you to check out my organization ATX Safer Streets, we are fighting to get more transit options late at night, 24/7/365 public transit, and more parking and transit options for service industry workers downtown. atxsaferstreets.org
3.) Ha ha, actually, the Red Line doesn’t run past SIX during the week if you are commuting on the southbound line to Austin. The northbound line to Leander gets service until 7. As Alan and Wayne stated below, the problem is that the Red Line shares track with a freight line. Commuter and freight trains can’t run on the same rails at the same time; but CapMetro was recently awarded a $50 million dollar grant that they plan to use to double track areas of the Red Line, and they’ll be able to provide later service and more frequency (supposedly).
Good questions. The Giddings Llano line cost CapMetro about $9M – for 162 miles! Compare that to the $145M / mile for Prop 1. No freight operations exist on the 32 miles of Red Line Metrorail track.
My bad, there IS freight on the track.
But the contention of Pro-transit opponents exactly the opposite of what you’re inferring, that is to say that this line /doesn’t/ give people more options.
If this is running until 2 am, who is riding it? People who have driven to the Park & Rides at the North & South ends? – That doesn’t solve the problem of drunk driving.
People who live in downtown, don’t need it to go out downtown, nor do they need it to go out at Highland where there’s no nightlife. There’s very little density of residents living around the Airport/Highland/Hancock section of the route, nor are there any current plans to allow for high density living developments – in fact some of the neighborhood associations that decide the zoning for such things have come out against Prop 1 and the developments necessary to make that part of the route a viable option. At this point you’re helping people in the East Riverside corridor get into downtown, but the exorbitant operating costs of this Prop 1 rail line will mean that CapMetro will likely have to reduce bus service to the rest of the city (this is what has already happened because of the $20 subsidy we have to pay for every rider of the current Red Line).
If you /do/ vote for Prop 1, I hope you are committed to voting for Council members who will allow for changes to zonings, as well as going to every CodeNext Advisory Group Meeting for the next few years around town to fight the neighborhood associations that don’t want the kinds of development that would be needed to make this in any way financially viable.
Alysha, when you say “nor are there any current plans to allow for high density living developments”, you are incorrect. Did you know that the University Park development just north of 32nd and Red River has current zoning that allows for the tallest building outside of downtown, plus plans for additional dense residential and office. Highland itself is going to support over 800,000 sq. ft of office and 1200 new apartments as well as over 20,000 planned students in the new ACC campus. There are aging apartment complexes all up and down Red River with zoning in place and ripe for redevelopment (just look south of the HEB between Red River and I-35 or north of Red River @ Dean Keeton). All of this is EXISTING zoning – the neighborhood associations can’t do a damn thing to stop it.
If you were like me and thought the 20K student count is too high, I just learned that ACC claimed 60K total in 2011, so that 20K is reasonable and even probable. That particular figure and that overall ACC planning hasn’t been mentioned enough in this discussion.
Thanks for bringing this up. It is never an easy decision. I would remind all of us that this rail, like highways (like 130) are not a snapshot in time. Think of a highway or a rail system as a backbone or spine . . They you load up on the spine. We see that in highways (shopping centers located at the intersection of two highways like Barton Creek Mall), but we tend not to think of this so much with rail. According to Robert Cervero (for one) a UC Berkeley planning professor, people often self-select to live near transit . . . So, if we are to follow ImagineAustin, and truly build compact and connectedly, we should think about new development being located at transit centers (as well as other appropriate places) so that people may move their to use the mobility options . . .
Note that rail will not relieve congestion . . . At least that is what the experts say . . What it does to is provide capacity and alternatives . . . Amazingly, if one looks at the big picture, it is a far less costly way (than greatly expanding urban freeway) to add transportation capacity . .
Nothing is ever perfect, but this is a good first start.
First start? Who will fund the rest? These bonds will last for 20-25 years. The first start and its extensions are estimated at over $6B. Property taxes and rents would have to increase dramatically. Based on projected ridership, It is far MORE expensive per passenger trip. Houston’s starter line was $55m/mile, Portlands avg is $37m – this is $145m.
$1.38B – $600m bond – $600m grant (that is unlikely) = $180m., hardly chump change (over double the recent affordable housing bond). Where is that and the $22m/yr ($90-95m for full system) operating fund coming from? That all assumes it is on budget, the industry average is 34% over budget.
I’m voting YES for Prop 1 – Anyone who’s ever sat in Austin traffic should agree. Growing up in Chicago, I was spoiled with the rail system and those lines didn’t create any segregation, the highways did that.
There needs to be a plan in place that connects the areas of the city.
Thanks for putting the pros and cons together in one place, and thanks to the commenters for above-average posts.
I’m also undecided. Joseph’s well-enumerated points are the reasons I could vote Yes.
True usage is the #1 reason I could vote No, followed by reasons #2-n: CapMetro has never done much right. The Red Line was over-budget and over-schedule. Many newer residents don’t know, for instance, that We lost half a million dollars in just one bad decision, when CapMetro chose the wrong railroad ties — very, very wrong, like “only ones in the country” wrong — and then had to sell them off at the half-mil loss. Even the new leadership can’t even get buses right, as they started rapid bus service without rapid bus lanes. Now we should trust them to get this huge program right?
Last, there is no such thing as “free money.” That federal money was paid by We Austinites (and U.S. taxpayers in general) with the understanding and vague hope that the money would be applied to good projects. Let’s all please drop that term, forever.
Having moved to Austin from NYC & growing up in the mountain west– I am voting in favor of Prop 1. Austin is the most infrastructurally incompetent city I’ve ever lived in. As many have already mentioned this city needs to afford other options to people. Sometimes you drive, sometimes you take a cab and sometimes you hop on the train. Let’s recall Manhattan has a population of 1.5 Million and a daily commuter influx of over 8 Million so the comparison on numbers alone is not great. However, NYC and other progressive cities generally belive in positive externalities and I believe that rail in Austin will have external benefit that will reach those who reside of 2222 or 360. I would love to be able to hop on the train and go spend money in other neighborhoods without having to drive.
We are building a house in SoLa and even though the rail does not venture down south lamar yet, I am still voting for it. Removing people from the roadways will ease traffic. I-35 is a mess and the truest way to integrate east Austin is the cut and cap, but this thread it about metro. If you are a “omg it’s so expensive for what you are getting”. Let me point out that the recent extension of the 2nd Ave line cost $4.45 billion and deliver three new stations to accompany roughly 2 miles of new tunnels. Rail has enormous up front costs. Austin already played this stupid game in 2003 when they voted no and think of what the Austin urban design would look like if long term growth was thought of and planned appropriately. If you are voting no, I urge you to change your work schedule and stay off the road so you can be part of the solution.
The dollars present a major impediment to the future of Austin and to citywide transit expansion at large. Few politicians will fund projects that outlast their terms and cost so much money.
Meanwhile, Austin faces a capacity problem. The city is expected to reach over a million new residents by 2025 and Travis county will be ~1.6 Million. Economically, the city can’t support the construction hence the bond issue. Austin has already suffered a decade of political inaction and this could prevent badly needed rail and bus expansion projects from seeing the light of day.
As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders and community members (VOTERS) have begun to think small. Once the central connect project is underway, you can then add the commuter lines from the suburbs.
I’ve written and said a lot about why I’m supporting Prop 1, but I want to say something new here.
I am trying to pursue my dreams of building a highly-successful business here in Austin, particularly a consumer tech startup.
Most companies in our industry are in San Francisco or New York. Yelp, foursquare, you name it.
And that’s for a reason. Those cities attract global talent. One of the things that helps them attract this talent is multi-modal transit. Obviously we live in a far more affordable city, and that’s something we should protect, but I also know that the tech industry was a major reason and positive factor in Austin’s growing economy and helped us stay out the depths of the recession.
My fear is that without urban rail and better roads, traffic will become a leading factor for someone not wanting to move here to be an engineer or marketer for my company in the future. And not just my company (which you may think won’t be around), but companies like WP Engine and Spredfast and BuildASign that already employ hundreds and hundreds of people in Austin and will employ thousands by then.
When I saw that Capital Factory’s Josh Baer and Spredfast co-founder Ken Cho and Silicon Labs CEO Tyson Tuttle and WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner all supported Prop 1, I realized it was because they’ve built successful businesses in Austin and they know what it takes to recruit and retain world-class teams.
One of the things those teams need is the ability to get to and from work without hassle so they can bring all their energy and excitement to work each day to help create jobs and value for years to come.
That’s something I hope to do with my company, and one more reason I voted for Prop 1.
What I don’t understand is, if its so important for businesses, why is the City coming after the money from my homeowner valuation? I love the way the Capital Factory et al are so pro Prop 1 but won’t put THEIR money where their mouth is. And if this is a rail system for Austin and outlying areas, where’s the money from Hays, Caldwell, Williamson County and others that will rush in and clog Park & Ride locations.
When you look at the pro-Prop 1 supporters you see City businesses, organizations and political stakeholders. Not anyone who will actually pay a cent. In the forgotten netherlands of Southwest Austin, we stand to gain a Park & Ride parking lot which will still take 90 minutes to get to Seaholm. All I can say is that Prop 1 is a lopsided, risk-riddent failure of a deal waiting for suckers to buy in. Once we do, we’ll have no say over the increases in taxes to pay for it for the next 20 years.
Patrick, I agree with you 100%. That’s why I voted AGAINST Prop 1. I would support a rail proposal if funding were coming from those with deeper pockets than home owners. lets see those developers of condos along S.Lamar or Barton Springs road or businesses in ATX pony up a few billion!
Tech business doesnt depend on light rail. This proposal, based on proponents own numbers does nothing for traffic. Even Project Connect admits that. Plenty of people who have built or own successful tech companies are against Prop 1, myself included.
“protect affordability”, you seem conflicted. How will Prop 1 do that? It may not move many people, but it will raise rent and home ownership for far, far more.
You seem to believe Austin depends on growth – it doesn’t have to. This city is hooked on growth, growth that can’t continue indefinitely. 2 dams on each end of town create a constant level lake and the illusion of abundant water resources. A continuing drought will put an end to growth. Can you believe in global climate change AND perpetual Central Texas water resources?
This rail is cooked up and pushed by powerful developer and political forces, have no doubt. Look at the money trains route. It is detrimental to affordibility and will do nothing for traffic except siphon away funds from superior solutions.
I lived in Austin from 1967-2011. After living for three years in Scottsdale, AZ, I have had an opportunity to experience a city and metroplex that planned for growth, as opposed to my home town, which did not. While my homesickness never goes away, I also would never move back. There was a guy named Dave who, about 30 years ago, was desperate to see Austin plan for its transportation future. Dave brought this matter to the attention of the city council often, but did not carry the day. When the Pennybacker Bridge was built, it could have been built large enough to accommodate a freeway. It wasn’t. Every chance Austin has had to avoid the traffic calamity it has brought upon itself, it has demurred. One day my husband and I realized this problem would not be resolved in our useful lifetimes, and started looking into other options. Austin property taxes are sky high, and Texas has $45 billion in bond indebtedness. We were concerned about moving to a state with an income tax, but our income and property taxes here, for a huge house with a fabulous view and more services than we ever got in 78746, is $5000 a year less than it was in Austin. The whole Phoenix metro area, which includes: Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Arizona State University, MLB Spring Training, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Phoenix Mercury (current WNBA champions — forget the Suns), and much, much more; runs beautifully. There are many wonderful music and sports venues with assigned seating and plentiful parking. We never went anywhere in Austin due to the incredible hassle. Here we go everywhere. The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), the only museum of its kind and class in the world, is in Phoenix next to the Mayo Clinic. We even have world class health care. Austin Bergstrom International Airport can’t even handle the air traffic for a Formula 1 event — so Austin even has air traffic jams. My husband and I saw no possibly of the mess that is Austin getting resolved in our useful lifetimes. I cried for a full 18 months after we left; but, fortunately, I gradually realized that I may now be living in the most beautiful state in the country. Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, 70% of the land is federally or Native American owned, which contributes to the awesomeness that even the nut jobs who frequently run the remaining 30% of this state cannot screw up. Our lakes are more than 100% full. Lake Travis is so sad now. I’m glad the young hipsters are all enjoying their hipness. But they’ll never dance in the dirt and the moonlight at the Armadillo World Headquarters or Liberty Lunch. when the $1 breakfast taco got nudged aside by the $150 steak on the East Side, it was time to saddle up and sail off into the sunset.
Thank you so much for your response. I just have to say, you sound like a woman who really understands and appreciates her surroundings. Love it.
I appreciate the discussion. Please add the Our Rail PAC, transit and community advocates, to the list of groups that oppose Prop 1.
More info: http://ourrail.org/
I have been working as a transit advocate in Austin for the past 7 years. Previously lived in the San Francisco area, where they have great transit. I love rail and advocate for transit and oppose this project because it is very expensive and poorly designed. Ridership will be relatively low and operating cost estimates exceed what it would cost to move the same number of people by bus.
On affordability, not only would there be the property tax increases to pay for it, but the property values along the line would go way up, meaning that most moderate income people on E. Riverside, for example, would most likely have to move. Cap Metro says that it will cost $2.50- $5 one way, so the lower income bus riders won’t be taking it, except their buses won’t be running anymore along the route. And bus service expansion will be kept to a minimum because Cap Metro would have to go into debt to pay the operating costs.
Lets instead work on solutions like rideshare, telecommuting, etc., and implement significant improvements in the bus service, while we come up with rail projects and plans that better serve the community.
Done and done! Thank you, Susan!
Thanks for this post. Very helpful. While I agree with your concern that it won’t help minorties in East Austin, why do you assume that East Austin is the only part of town where minorities live? I live in far north Austin and there are plenty of Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and poor whites up here who would be helped by these routes.
Personally, I say get the ball rolling now, and expand to even more comprehensive routes later. The way politics are here in Republican Texas (even in Austin), the hurdles to gathering enough political will and community mindedness (as opposed to rugged asshole individualism) make it a challenge to get any kind of public works done, period. If we let this opportunity pass by, it won’t come along again anytime soon.
Hey, Mike! I don’t disagree with your statement! I definitely don’t think the eastside is the only place. I just live in that neighborhood and am specifically speaking about my neighborhood.
Hi! Big thanks hipstercrite for this page! May I add a suggestion on your list of bullets? I know you have a quote from AURA already (thx!) but I think our central reason opposing the plan, that it’ll hurt the bus system and reduce the system’s people-moving capacity, deserves a bulleted reference. We also think a low-ridership line will make future rail expansions politically infeasable, and it’d be great if that were bulleted too, but I don’t wanna get greedy about it 😉
I’m happy to add bullets.
Do you want me to add in the articles/quotes or reasons why section? If in the articles/quotes section, can you please direct me to an article/quote? Thanks!
I will be voting against Prop 1 for various reasons. Not only will it apparently do nothing to alleviate traffic congestion (its nominal objective), but it will be so expensive that it will preclude doing anything else in the transit or transportation spheres for the foreseeable future. You could provide a lot of transit options for $1.6 billion. Similarly, you could improve a lot of roads. But we’re not going to get any of that. Instead, we’re going to get a single 9 mile service that could be provided at a fraction of the cost using buses. And at $8 a ride it will probably be way too expensive for those living in the neighborhoods it purports to serve.
What’s so special about rail? Intelligent planning uses the most cost effective technology, which certainly isn’t rail. Why do so many people have this weird notion that if a transit system doesn’t run on steel wheels it somehow doesn’t count? I remember years ago riding the Metro in Paris and noticing that it was rubber tires on pavement rather than a train. You can make really nice inviting buses if you want to. And it’s easy to add/change/remove bus routes according to changing demand. With rail, you’re stuck with the tracks you have.
Austin has several different transportation problems and they need to be addressed individually. The most pressing problem is congestion on the highways, which can only be addressed by either reducing the demand for them, or by increasing the supply of them. Prop 1 does neither. As far as I can tell, its proponents see it as a vehicle for facilitating new high density development in East Austin, and perhaps for revitalizing Highland Mall. It’s not going to take existing cars off the road. It’s just going to create more development, which is the root cause of the problem in the first place. (I’m also curious about who owns the land that will be redeveloped when the train goes out there. Usually when the govt comes up with an insanely expensive plan that doesn’t appear to benefit the public in any way, there’s some well-connected crony getting rich off of it).
We also need to have a way of getting around in the high density areas of the city. Downtown, West Campus, South Lamar, etc. Not only would this facilitate a car-free option for people who live in the area, it would allow commuter rail/bus to become viable by taking people to where they actually want to go rather than just dumping them off at some hub somewhere and expecting them to walk. Buses seem the best option here, although Car2Go type options might also be interesting. But again, Prop 1 precludes anything like this because it sucks away ALL current and future resources. It’s not a first step. It’s inherently the last step.
We need to have a way for those who don’t have cars to be somewhat functional. And realistically that’s going to have to be buses. But again, if Prop 1 passes, there will be no money for this. It’s more likely to be the contrary, where service will be reduced to mitigate the cost of the train.
And last but certainly not least, we need an effective way for those who live in the outlying areas to get into town, and once they’re there, be able to get to their actual destination. I think trains could make some sense here. As one of your links points out, rail becomes cost effective when there are many riders traveling to and from relatively few endpoints. You could have a few strategically located dump-off points in town (not all downtown), and then buses/Car2Go etc from those points.
And as part of this, the roads need to be improved too. Well over 90% of our transportation is on highways. You can’t just ignore that. We can’t build highways forever, but for the foreseeable future I don’t see an alternative given the low density housing that families clearly prefer.
I also think that the city has been very deceptive regarding the costs of this project. They float this $150 per year per household figure. But then you discover that that’s based on a $200K home, as if you can buy a house in Austin for that. I just checked and the avg home price here is about $550K. So that’s more like $400 a year. And they’re also basing their figure only on the $600M bond, rather than the full $1B spending commitment. Since Prop 1 commits the city to spending $1 billion in local revenue, they will intrinsically have to raise taxes by an additional $400M on top of this. So we’re really talking close to $700 a year forever for the average homeowner in Austin. (And renters will see that cost passed on to them in higher rents). That is a huge expense. Can you afford to drop $700 a year for essentially no benefit?
You’re dead on. This is a second or third mortgage for many, without other service growth costs that the COA and County will ask for increases for. The KUT article on this is a real eye opener naming likely $1000/yr increases.
I think we’re going to find that the lack of water to drink is going to put the brakes on growth here long before transportation grinds to a halt.
People argue this is the wrong route. This is just the first phase of rail. The city of austin already has an urban rail master plan where in the future, rail will extend to the airport, south congress, mueller, west austin(78703),east austin (78702 and 78721), north lamar, and south west austin. Future rail extension plans can be viewed on the project connect website. Once the whole urban rail network is complete, it WILL have an overall positive impact for austin. It’s only $15 extra a month for taxes, and they go towards education! Back in 2000 austin voted no to rail and as a result we have the nation’s fourth worse traffic today, despite being the 11th biggest city. Voting no again will turn austin into more of a lot, we must vote yes now to bring the first phase of rail to life!
“only $15 extra a month for taxes” on top of the $20 for ACC and the $32 for central health and the $8 for last years city bonds and the $11 for the AISD bonds and the recent utility rate/fee increases and the hundreds extra for rising appraisals.
It doesn’t go for education that is a completely different taxing entity. It goes to pay the loan (that currently costs $1.59 for every dollar borrowed) and the city already owes $8.6B in bond repayment.
Where will all the money come from to pay for your “whole urban rail network”? The tab is estimated over $6b, far beyond our ability to borrow for decades. And where do we come up for the funds for other needs?
Give me a break Robert. Voting no to rail in 2000 was not the cause of our congestion. I’m not paying another $300 a year so landowners and property investment firms can profit off of more east side gentrification and continue to flood our city with more people, which is exactly what we don’t need.
This is my problem with it, it connects the shitty Highland Mall area with the shitty East Side area, both of which are ripe with real estate folks looking to strike it rich on the backs of the middle class home owners.
Put a rail from Round Rock to downtown, where the real commuters live.
Completely understandable. What would your solution to this traffic be? And highway expansion is not an option since we can’t expand them anywhere. 35 Is Only GETS ING One New Lane And That Won’t help. 183 is being turned to a toll road in 2015
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Hi – admittedly, I haven’t read all of the above, but what I have skimmed does not address the issue of voting for bond propositions in and of itself. I believe it is a vote for additional debt, and that it is possible for a city to plan for and build light rail using available tax funds without proposing to sell bonds, which are essentially a loan which must be paid back with interest. Please correct me if I’m wrong…