Published on August 13th, 2014 | by Kate Harrington
$1 Billion Rail and Road Proposal Is On November Ballot
The Austin City Council last week did something it’s been discussing, in one form or another, for years: it voted to put a proposal on the November ballot asking voters to approve the city’s borrowing of $600 million that would go toward a 9.5-mile light rail line.
That proposed light rail would cost an estimated $1.4 billion, and run through Central Austin to East Riverside Drive. It’s part of a larger planned high capacity transit system that could eventually connect the entire Central Texas region.
The ballot language approved last week has two caveats: the light rail project would only occur if the Federal Transit Administration agrees to match what Austin would put into the project, and rail borrowing will only happen after the city commits to spend an additional $400 million on road projects. Those could include work on IH-35, Texas 71, and U.S. 183.
If the city does end up making debt payments on all of the proposed projects, Austin homeowners could see their taxes increase by close to $200 a year, city officials told the Austin American-Statesman.
This is not the first time in Austin’s recent history that voters have been asked to consider rail. Voters very narrowly rejected a proposal in 2000 that would have funded a much larger system than the current Central Corridor rail plan. That proposed system would have taken the form of a light rail line that would have cost nearly $2 billion and extended more than 50 miles.
With that failure in mind, a 2004 proposal, which led to the existing Red Line, called for a shorter commuter rail on existing freight tracks. That system began running in 2010, and has seen a steady increase in ridership.
Project Connect, the entity that has led the corridor studies and route planning for a regional transit system, unveiled its proposed route this spring. That route, which runs from the new Austin Community College Highland campus to East Riverside, has been received with praise from some groups, and concern from others.
It’s now up to voters to decide this November whether the Project Connect system is the path the city should take toward increased transit.
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