Urban Rail Facts And Fantasy – What You Really Need To Know

By Bill Oakey – July 1, 2014

As the Project Connect PR campaign begins to heat up, it is important for people to take a close look at the facts and fictions behind the massively expensive bond proposal.  The best way to do that is to listen to the Project Connect team in their own words.  The video below is from the June 17th joint meeting of the Austin City Council and the Capital Metro Board.

Taxpayer Advisory:  Some of this material may cause stress and anxiety for taxpayers.  View With Caution

Here is a link to the joint meeting on June 17th.

The discussion begins with an overview of the East Riverside to Highland Mall route for the rail line.  You may have already heard some of the radio ads touting the notion that this plan for urban rail will “take hundreds of cars off the road.”  There are many organized pro-rail groups in Austin with some members that have been studying Austin rail for as long as 30 years.  These people are not against mass transit.  In fact they support it wholeheartedly.  It is for that very reason that we all need to carefully consider whether the Project Connect proposal gets it right.

Or whether it doesn’t.

Below is a quick summary of some of the most significant statements by the Project Connect team from the video, and what we can learn from them:

1. They list congestion as the #1 public concern.  Yet they openly admit that their ridership projections depend on new growth, which the rail will help generate. That’s a built-in contradiction! What it means is they have to literally BRING IN THE ADDITIONAL CARS THAT THEY ARE PROMISING TO TAKE OFF THE ROADS!

2. Their plans call for submitting the application for Federal funds three years from now.  There is already a long waiting list ahead of us.

3. They state that one of the most important factors in winning the competition for Federal funds is being able to show that the rail serves TRANSIT DEPENDENT RIDERS WHO LIVE IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING.  Where are the numbers in their projections to support that requirement? Where in the gentrified future of the eastern route will this “affordable housing” be?  What plans from the City can they point to that will accomplish that?

4. There was a huge gulf of uncertainty surrounding their discussion of projected operation and maintenance costs.  They talked about increasing fares, having Capitol Metro go into debt, and future increases in sales tax revenue.

5. Vague references were made to “partnering” with the City of Austin. (Code for taxing us).  One partnering method suggested was taking some of Austin’s parking revenues.  Of course, any funds sucked out of the Austin City Budget must be replaced by the taxpayers.

Maybe this group should change their name to “Project Collect.”

The truth is that they don’t know where the money will come from to pay for the operations and maintenance.  A better way to say that is that they don’t know which one or our pockets it would come from.  Another proposal has been floated to let the Austin Water Utility and Austin Energy “share” the cost of relocating utility lines along the rail route.  And guess who would wind up “sharing” those costs on their utility bills?

Going beyond the cost issues is the more fundamental question of value for the dollar.  Austin doesn’t need a bunch of naysayers running around yelping against urban rail simply because it will cost something to build and maintain.  What we do need is a thoughtful planning process that works with reliable and transparent data to back up the assumptions about ridership and cost.  And we need an open and inclusive process that is grounded in the principles of consensus-building among the stakeholders.

Since none of those things have been presented with the Project Connect plan, let’s vote NO on the bonds in November and work with the new district City Council members to get the job done right.


2 thoughts on “Urban Rail Facts And Fantasy – What You Really Need To Know

  1. Margie Burciaga

    Transportation is a “Quality of Life Issue” that needs solutions.
    We need to fix traffic congestion NOW not in 10 years!

    Facts to consider:
    * The term “affordability” to those making the plans for the city have yet to be defined in $ amount – I have asked repeatedly!
    * SE Austin by Riverside does not have a congestion problem but it does have new developments with rentals @ $1600+ a mo

    What we can do now:
    *Improve traffic flow by re-timing lights & meter on ramps like CA
    *Provide a dynamic metro bus line at about 1/8th of the cost of any rail line which will benefit West Austin businesses and increase employment opportunities
    *Current Red Line needs more rail cars due to max capacity at peak hours, maintenance of railcars & track, and increase operating hours especially evenings/weekends. Shouldn’t we at least perfect what we do have?


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