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Urban Rail and Road Improvement Plan Will Go to Austin Voters in November
Supporters of urban rail hope it will relieve traffic congestion, but some transit advocates aren't convinced it will work.

A major transportation plan took a significant step forward Thursday when the Austin City Council voted unanimously to put it on the November ballot.

It’s a billion-dollar proposition. Voters would agree to a $600 million bond for a 9.5-mile urban rail line, contingent upon two conditions: matching funds from the Federal Transit Administration or another federal or state source, and a future city council securing $400 million dollars for road projects. The ordinance does not specify a source for the additional $400 million.

Critics have long said the rail plan – which would go from Riverside, southeast of downtown, to ACC Highland, north of downtown – is not the best one. But there were other criticisms on Thursday. Roger Baker told council members that, if the bond passes, it would cripple future city councils "for about a decade, by issuing the maximum possible amount of Austin property tax debt."

While Baker and others argued the language on the ballot measure is misleading, Leffingwell addressed the need to relieve growing problems with traffic congestion.

“It doesn’t just steal away our free time. It’s having far-reaching consequences for our entire community," Leffingwell said. "It’s a grave threat to our economy, to our reputation and to our quality of life.”

Thursday's council session was long and council members looked bleary-eyed, often propping their heads up on the dais with cupped hands.

But, when Meg Merit – one of the few speakers in favor of the measure – took the mic, even Mayor Leffingwell lightened up.

"Just a reminder to everyone: The year is 2014. It's 'the future,'" Merit said, garnering laughs from those in attendance. "The rail is now."

Now, it will be up to voters to decide yea or nay on the future of Austin transportation this November. If the proposition is approved, it would be phase one of a system that would take decades to complete. 

Trey Shaar is an All Things Considered producer, reporter and host. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @treyshaar.
Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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