By Bill Oakey – June 17, 2014
On Thursday June 26, the Austin City Council is set to make one of the biggest decisions in modern Austin history. They will vote on a resolution to approve the “Project Connect” urban rail plan, including the Riverside to Highland Mall route and the proposed funding. The actual wording of the November bond proposition will come in a separate vote in August.
But there is one crucial omission in this process – a public hearing.
The City Council and the Capital Metro Board met this morning in a joint session to discuss the final urban rail plan. This meeting will be broadcast on the City’s cable channel at 2:00 PM today, and a video of the meeting will be posted soon to the City of Austin’s website.
Many voters may not be aware of what exactly constitutes “Project Connect.” It is a group of representatives from local governing bodies and their staffs that has been working on an all-encompassing mass transportation plan for the Austin area. It includes rapid buses, commuter rail, and regional rail, in addition to the proposed urban rail project. If you happen to belong to a community organization that hosted a Project Connect open house, or if you knew who they were and went to their website or Facebook page, then you might have a better idea of what is at stake in this major transportation initiative.
Unfortunately though, the urban rail project has not been communicated well enough yet for the average person on the street to understand what the proposal entails. Just yesterday at the grocery store, a person mentioned that he had heard about the plan but did not know much about it. “Does it go to the airport?” he asked me. Nope.
There are two interesting things that I just learned about the plan within the past few days. One is that Project Connect only decided towards the end of the planning process to include a tunnel at the north end of route near Hancock Center. Somebody realized that there are other railroad tracks in that neighborhood, and that a new rail system would have to get over, under or around them somehow. The other is that Project Connect’s plan includes constructing two permanent, dedicated bus lanes along the rapid bus route on Guadalupe / Lamar. So, if anyone was looking at this fall’s bond election as “We have to start somewhere,” while assuming that more urban rail would soon be coming to a neighborhood near you, then keep these facts in mind.
Now, we are only days away from a City Council resolution that will set in stone the route and the funding plans for one of the biggest projects that Austin voters have encountered in at least 14 years. (Since the last urban rail vote in 2000). But the Council is planning to consider that resolution without a public hearing.
If you think a public hearing would be helpful, please use this link to contact all of the City Council members and ask for one to be scheduled at or before their June 26th meeting.