The Capital Metro board unanimously approved the recommended plan for Project Connect, the regional vision for expanded transit service in the region. But hurdles remain, including coming up with a way to pay for the expansion and oversee its implementation. Voters could potentially decide on a property tax increase in November.
“Today is where we’ve transitioned from a vision plan – a lot of talk about what we think we want to do after all this work – to an actual action-based plan,” Cap Metro President and CEO Randy Clarke said Wednesday.
The plan includes:
- Two main light rail lines: the Orange Line and the Blue Line. Both would run in dedicated lanes or transit ways. The Orange Line would eventually run from Tech Ridge in the north through the UT campus corridor and downtown, ending at Slaughter Lane in the south. The Blue Line would run out to the airport, sharing the Orange Line tracks between the North Lamar Transit Center and downtown.
- In a change from the original plan, the Gold Line would also be a light rail line instead of a bus line with dedicated lanes. It would run between ACC Highland to Republic Square.
- A new downtown tunnel with underground stations.
- Expanded commuter rail (larger trains) service: More stations and faster service would come to the Red Line. The plans also call for the construction of a new Green Line, which would run from downtown to Colony Park with planned extensions to Manor and Elgin.
- New MetroRapid and MetroExpress Service.
- More park-and-rides.
The Austin City Council also unanimously approved a resolution supporting the plan during the joint meeting. Equity was a big topic of discussion throughout the meeting, with officials saying more work needs to be done to avert possible displacement by transit development and lingering mistrust after past infrastructure projects like the construction of I-35 and MoPac.
“We have to make serious commitments right now to understand why certain communities mistrust the promise of these kinds of generational investments, and we have to commit to work seriously and intentionally to overcome the mistrust,” District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said.
Now that the plan has been adopted by the board, the focus now turns to financing it. The vote was a necessary step to apply for federal grants for the project. All told, the plan could cost $9.8 billion over the next two decades, with at least $5 billion potentially coming from the federal government.
The balance would come from both the City of Austin and Capital Metro. The transit agency would allocate funds for development and contribute revenues from fares and other sources. Meanwhile, the city could dedicate property tax revenue raised in a tax rate election.
The leaders also discussed the formation of a partnership between Cap Metro and the city to oversee and implement the Project Connect plan, but no decisions were made.
Next month, leaders are expected to decide how much to spend on the project. In August, the council will vote on the exact tax rate to present to voters in November. To pay for the full plan, consultants estimate an 11-cent increase in the city's tax rate is required.
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