Tag Archives: Project Connect

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.


Speak Against The Urban Rail Plan On Thursday

By Bill Oakey – June 24, 2014

Citizens who have called for a chance to speak on the urban rail plan will get their wish this Thursday.  The City Council has set the time for 4:00 PM, with no limit on the number of speakers.  The good news is that this will not be a post-midnight meeting.  The Council has decided to hear three major topics that will draw speakers, with the urban rail plan being one of those.  After that they will most likely adjourn and finish the rest of the crowded agenda on Friday.  This scheduling update was provided by Council Member Kathie Tovo’s office.

You Can Sign Up Now To Speak Against Item #64

You can sign up at City Hall, 301 W. 2nd Street, anytime between now and whenever the item is called after 4:00 on Thursday.  Here are just a few of the reasons to oppose the current urban rail plan:

1. Many of us would like to support mass transit, but this is not the best plan for Austin.  The route from Highland Mall to East Riverside is not a densely populated area, and would do more to help land speculators and developers hoping to attract newcomers than current residents. The population patterns behind the 2000 urban rail route along Guadalupe and Lamar still make sense.  That ballot initiative passed within the City of Austin, and only failed at the polls because of opposition from outlying towns.

2. The $1 billion price tag would land you a property tax increase of $160 per year within five years on a $200,000 home.  That would come on top of a multitude of other tax increases between now and then.

3. The City Council is likely to bundle a 60 / 40 split for rail and roads into a single bond proposition for the November ballot.  The $1 billion cost would cover both.  Voters should not be forced to accept a questionable and highly unpopular rail plan in order to vote for road improvements. The hastily throw-together batch of mostly I-35 improvements was contrived only for the purpose of “sweetening” the rail vote, and citizens should reject that tactic outright.

4. Those who say “We have to start somewhere” should be informed that if the bonds pass in November, Project Connect plans to install permanent concrete dedicated bus lanes along the competing Lamar / Guadalupe route, closing it off forever to urban rail.

5. Project Connect has come up with a new humdinger of a deal to reduce the cost of the rail plan.  If you like paying your water and electric bills now, you will love this great idea!  They have decided to “share” the cost of relocation of utility lines along the rail route with the Austin Water Utility and Austin Energy.

A better sharing plan would be to email this blog posting to your friends and share it on Facebook and Twitter.

Where’s The City Council Public Hearing On Urban Rail?

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.