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Advisory Group Gives Urban Rail Green Light

Project Connect
An artist's rendering of an urban rail line intersecting with commuter rail near the Austin Convention Center

A proposed urban rail line is one small step closer to becoming a reality after a panel of local officials, business leaders and citizens voted overwhelmingly to recommend the $1.38 billion proposal. The Central Corridor Advisory Group voted 13-1 in favor of Project Connect's 9.5 mile plan.

"The last time we put this option before voters was 14 years ago," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. "I've been conscious all along that we had to put a good and appealing project before the voters. I think this recommendation will do that."

The lone dissenting vote was from public transit advocate Julie Montgomery of AURA. Among her concerns is that parts of the proposed route are not in areas where urban rail is in high demand. 

"I fear that this plan will not get public support," Montgomery said before the vote. "Folks are suffering under their property taxes and I think this plan both costs a lot and is risky." 

The proposed urban rail route (see image) goes down East Riverside Drive from Grove Boulevard through downtown, the University of Texas campus, the Hancock Center and ends at the Highland Mall. 

Credit Project Connect

Supporters of the route say more people will live near it in the future as Austin grows and its population density increases.

"To really understand the potential of the proposed route, it's important to understand that the destinations along the proposed route will look a lot different than they do today," said Larry Graham with the Downtown Austin Alliance, which supports the proposal.

The Austin City Council has until August to decide whether to ask voters to approve an urban rail bond in November.

The proposed bond would likely be $700 million, about half the cost of the project, with the assumption that the Federal Transit Administration would pay the other half.

A $790 million bond would cause the city portion of your property tax bill to go up by 5 cents per $100 of property valuation, according to a city budget presentation from April. That's about 10 percent over the current city of Austin tax rate of 50.27 cents per $100 of property valuation.  

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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