Tag Archives: Austin Light Rail

The Ugly Truth About The Project Connect Ballot Proposition To Raise Property Taxes 23%

By Bill Oakey – August 13, 2020

Does Austin need some kind of improved mass transit system? Absolutely. Do we need a good plan to relieve traffic congestion? Absolutely. So, does the City Council’s November ballot initiative to raise your property taxes by 23% address those needs and solve the traffic problems?

Absolutely not! And there are plenty of reasons why.

Are You Ready for Just One Car Lane In Each Direction On Major Sections of Guadalupe, North  Lamar and South Congress?

if you go to the Project Connect website, you will see a fairyland artist’s rendering of a beautifully landscaped, massively wide boulevard. There are two lanes in the center for the rail line. Then there are two car lanes on each side of the rail line, with drivers cruising along blissfully. But this little slice of paradise is about as real as the yellow brick road that leads to Emerald City in the Land of Oz.

All you have to do is take a little trip from North Austin along North Lamar and Guadalupe through U.T. and then across the river and down South Congress. Look out the window and count the number of car lanes. Unless you see six wide lanes all along the route, you will be witnessing a big heap of trouble for the Project Connect Pie-In-The-Sky transit plan. Just do a Google search for “Project Connect” “car lanes,” with the quotes exactly as shown. You will find plenty of community concerns about this critical issue. What is Capital Metro’s response? Oh, well, we could always dig some more tunnels or do some elevated sections. Bottom line – There is no firm plan to address the problem. It’s all couched in several layers of ambiguous speculation. A “yes” vote in November will guarantee clogged turn lanes and exponentially worse traffic congestion.

But Isn’t It About Time We Got People Out of Their Cars?

If you dare to raise serious questions about the murky state of this transit plan, you will hear that familiar refrain. Well, of course in an ideal world, most people would abandon their cars and step into a sleek rail car that will whisk them away to their destination  There are cities like Portland and Vancouver that have excellent transit systems. But most of the good ones were started at least 30 years ago, when the costs were much cheaper. In today’s Austin, we have a large suburban population that uses the roads. There won’t be a rail line to serve most of them for decades. But they still need to come into the City and use the roads every day when they go to work. Project Connect’s grand plan is simply a companion piece to the high density land development scheme that threatens to disrupt and displace existing residents of Central Austin neighborhoods. It is designed to carry young hipsters back and forth to the bars and festivals, and of course to their high tech jobs.

The Ugly Truth About the Real Cost of a Citywide Transit System

You don’t have to look far into the Project Connect webpages to come across a key phrase that no one should overlook – “Initial Investment.” Yes, the glossy pages and slick ads will try to convince you that we can have a huge north-south Orange Line, a Blue Line all the way to the airport, a series of downtown tunnels, and a slew of new rapid and regular bus routes – all for the $7.1 billion from raising your property taxes and imagined Federal support. But remember that the November vote is only the “initial investment.”

The Real Cost Is at Least 8 Times Higher than $7.1 Billion!

All you have to do is look at the rail initiative approved by Seattle voters in 2016. It calls for a $54 billion expansion of their rail system. You read that right – $54 billion! And not for the entire citywide system, but just for an expansion of their existing system. This is why Project Connect refers to the November vote to raise your property taxes as an “initial investment.”

But hold on, it gets worse. In case you were wondering whether there would be cost overruns in Project Connect’s cost estimates,, take a look at this article that hit our fellow taxpayers in Seattle: “Seattle Light Rail, Transportation Plan Busting $54 Billion Budget.” They are barely getting started and the costs are already spiraling upwards. Project Connect’s plan calls for Austin’s entire downtown section to be built in underground tunnels. Just close your eyes and try to imagine the staggering, ever-escalating costs piling up over time to accomplish that.

Hey Wait! Aren’t We In the Middle of a Pandemic??

The first question anyone should have asked with regard to Project Connect is whether this year is the right time to ask voters to raise their property taxes. We have no firm estimates on how many businesses will fail completely between now and the end of the year. Even the ones that survive the downturn will be strapped for cash. How in the world will they be able to pay their property taxes in full and on time in January. Is anyone at the City or Travis County even looking into this question? Have they surveyed the many types of struggling businesses to gauge the situation? Have they calculated the potential loss of sales tax revenue combined with a steep loss of property tax revenue? What about all the unemployed workers? And the hundreds, if not thousands of landlords who haven’t been able to collect their rent payments?

Update: 6:00 PM, August 13

Today the City Council made it official. They voted unanimously to put the Project Connect measure on the November 3rd ballot. The referendum calls for an 8.75 cent hike per $100 home valuation. This would mean a property tax increase of 23%!! It would cost the owner of a median-valued home of $326,368 an additional $332 per year. The ill-conceived timing and the exorbitant cost makes this the most foolhardy and irresponsible action of any City Council in our lifetime!

Please send an email link to this page to all of your contacts, and share it widely on social media.

The Lame Arguments In Favor Of The Rail Bonds

By Bill Oakey – August 21, 2014

Here’s A Little Baseball Analogy

Picture a young boy in the early 1960’s.  He is a huge baseball fan.  He has built up an impressive collection of baseball cards from those 2 cent packages of chewing gum. Now he wants to take a giant leap forward. At the age of 12, he is convinced that he is ready to test his prowess on an actual baseball field. So, he joins a Little League club.

Perhaps we can call this little guy Timmy. Timmy has a very large circle of friends. Everybody likes him a lot because of his outgoing personality and his ability to make other kids laugh. When he holds a birthday party, everybody from blocks around shows up. Now he is ready to invite them all to his first Little League Baseball game.

There is just one little problem. Timmy has never been good at outdoor sports. The reason for that is – to put it bluntly – the poor guy is just too clumsy and uncoordinated. But he won’t let that stop him. He has every intention of making up for that with an over-abundance of pride. No one is willing to warn Timmy that he might make a fool of himself.

On the big day of the game, the crowd is nearly twice as big as normal. Everybody turns out to see Timmy’s grand entrance. Because he is new, he isn’t allowed onto the field until the last inning. The score is tied 6 to 6 as Timmy steps out for his first chance to pitch. He picks up the ball and attempts a windup. It comes across even more awkwardly than his worst fears.

The crowd is still anxious, thinking he will come through. But after an embarrassing second windup, which is even worse than the first, he pitches the ball far to the left of the batter and nearly loses his balance in the process. The crowd is disappointed, but sympathetic. Timmy’s friends try to hide the sinking feeling that he will not succeed on the field. None of the ones who should have known better will admit that fact. That sad truth overwhelms everything else. When people know enough to know better, why don’t they just face reality?

The Sad March of the Good Little Soldiers

Last night at a meeting of the Central Austin Democrats, I witnessed a very similar exercise. Speaker after speaker stepped up to the microphone to make their stumbling and uninspired speeches. Like poor little Timmy, they each struggled to launch a winning pitch.  It was so sad that it was almost painful to listen.

“I wish I could say that this is a great rail proposal,” the first speaker began. “It is not a great proposal. Maybe it is not even a good proposal. But at least it’s an OK proposal.” Then came the punchline that set the tone for all of the other good little soldiers…

“We have to start somewhere.”

One by one they marched in lock-step to the stage to deliver their remarks. They could have been lip-syncing to a canned recording. The lack of any real conviction or enthusiasm was pronounced. The best that could be said of the expressed pro-rail message was that the City Council supports it. Capital Metro supports it. Some big-name local Democrats support it. Therefore, it must be the right thing to do. And gosh, won’t it be exciting to take that first trip from Riverside to Highland Mall?

Yawn…

These speakers offered no compelling statistics to justify the staggering $1.4 billion cost. Nor did they explain where or how Austin would come up with the remainder of the $8 to $10 billion total cost of a citywide light rail system. If the November bond proposal would double our debt capacity and raise taxes far beyond today’s already unsustainable levels, how would we ever be able to afford to expand the system? One speaker even dared to suggest that building the rail would improve affordability.

A resolution in support of the rail bonds passed by a narrow two-vote margin. Central Austin Democrats accomplished what they set out to do. In the process, they tore a gaping hole in the fabric of democracy. At a previous meeting, they allowed a single presentation from a pro-rail organization. But they never offered equal time to the other side. This shows not only a measure of distinct unfairness, but also a huge dose of insecurity on the part of the insiders who never wanted a fair discussion in the first place. What were they afraid would happen if both sides had been given the same opportunity? And is this the model of behavior that they intend to stand on for all major issues in the future?

Looking back on the people in the room, I am reminded of our hapless Little League pitcher named Timmy. When the rail bonds fail by a significant margin, the rest of us will wonder why none of the “good little soldiers” could see it coming. When people know enough to know better, why don’t they just face reality?

Austin Urban Rail Town Hall – Mark Your Calendars

By Bill Oakey – August 15, 2014

It is critically important for you to send this notice to everyone you know.  The November rail bond election could result in the doubling of our bond debt, and most likely the highest property tax increase in Austin history.

Please join us for the:

Austin Urban Rail Town Hall

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Greater Austin Merchants Association (GAMA)

8801 Research Blvd

As voters, we should be asking tough questions in November. That’s why Gray Panthers and Love North Austin are hosting a Town Hall on Austin’s $1.4 billion Urban Rail proposal. We will have a diverse cross section of panelists to answer questions from the audience about the new Rail bond that will come before voters in November.

Join us:

August 26th, 7-9pm, Greater Austin Merchants Association,
8801 Research Blvd

Panelists:

Lyndon Henry, Urban Rail Today
Bill Oakey, AustinAffordability.com
Steven Knapp, Vice President Crestview Neighborhood Association
Jim Skaggs, COST Austin
Pro-Rail Representatives, 3 Panelists to Be Announced

Moderator:

Andy Pierrotti, KVUE

Organizers & Co-Hosts:

Mary Rudig, Editor Love North Austin
Clint Miller, Gray Panthers
Laura Pressley, City Council Candidate, District 4