Austin Voters To Decide On Two Ballot Measures That Would Fund Transportation Improvements
In addition to several City Council races, a U.S. Senate seat and the presidential race, Austin voters must decide whether to invest billions of dollars into the future of the region’s transportation system.
Proposition A would direct a new property tax to expand the region’s transit system. Proposition B would authorize the city to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements, including street repairs, new sidewalks and new urban trails.
Austin voters will decide whether to add a new property tax to help fund Project Connect, an expansion of transit service in Austin. The expansion includes two new light rail lines, a new commuter rail line and a new bus rapid transit line that would run in its own right-of-way so it doesn’t mix with traffic. A new downtown transit tunnel would also be built. The plan includes three new MetroRapid limited stop bus routes, as well as more park-and-rides and neighborhood connectors.
Because transit expansion carries the risk of spiking home values, the plan includes $300 million in funding to prevent people from getting displaced from their neighborhoods. The money would be used for strategies such as building new affordable housing and providing financial assistance for home ownership.
According to the City of Austin, the anticipated annual impact for a home valued at $250,000 would be $219, while for a home valued at $500,000, it would be $438. The median value of a home in Austin is around $400,000, so the impact would be roughly $350.
The ballot proposal was in the works well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused declines in both traffic congestion and transit ridership. Opponents of the plan contend the decline in congestion and the likelihood of more people permanently working from home means Project Connect is unnecessary. Further, they say a tax increase right now would hurt people struggling during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
The plan’s backers say construction would lead to more jobs. They also say the region’s trend of spectacular growth is expected to continue over the next two decades and that investing now would reduce costs in the future.
The first parts of the plan, the new MetroRapid bus lines and upgrades to the MetroRail Red Line, would be completed in the next three to four years. The new light rail lines would be completed by 2028.
The plan assumes that 45% of the costs of building the transit lines would be carried by the federal government, which has happened in other cities.
If voters approve Prop B, the City of Austin would borrow $460 million to pay for infrastructure improvements, like new sidewalks and street repairs.
The money would be split as follows:
- Major Capital Improvements: $102 million for work on the Longhorn Dam Bridge, the Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative, and the South Pleasant Valley Corridor
- Sidewalks: $80 million for new sidewalks and repairs of existing ones
- Urban Trails: $80 million
- Safety/Vision Zero: $65 million for reconstruction at 25 major intersections, pedestrian crossing upgrades and speed mitigation projects
- Substandard Streets: $53 million for improvements to roadways that do not currently meet city standards. Most of the funding would be directed toward Johnny Morris Road and Ross Road, with other substandard streets being addressed with leftover money.
- Bikeways: $40 million
- Safe Routes to School: $20 million to improve safety for elementary and middle school students who walk and/or bike to and from school
- Local Transit Enhancement Program: $19 million to enhance transit access, shared micromobility fleet expansion, first and last mile connections, and communications technology.
- Neighborhood Partnering Program: $1 million for community-initiated capital improvement projects
According to the City of Austin, bonds are backed by the city’s property tax rate. While taxpayers would see no impact during the upcoming fiscal year, a 2 cent increase in the tax rate would be phased in by fiscal year 2026.
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