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Austin And Cap Metro Board Vote To Create Entity To Guide Massive Project Connect Transit Plan

A Metrorail train is reflected in a mirror at the downtown Austin station.
Juan Figueroa for KUT

The Austin City Council and Capital Metro Board voted Friday to form a new local government corporation to oversee the funding and implementation of Project Connect, the transit expansion plan. 

The new joint venture – the Austin Transit Partnership – will have a governing board made up of members from the Austin City Council, the Cap Metro board and experts from the community. 

Last week, leaders voted to move forward with a $7 billion plan that would add two new light rail lines, a commuter rail line, a downtown transit tunnel and several bus lines to the Cap Metro system. 

Next week, the council will formally decide whether to put a property tax increase on the November ballot. The tax rate of 8.75 cents per $100 of property valuation would fund the expansion, as well as efforts aimed at preventing people from being displaced if the new transit lines spark pricey real estate developments. 

Both bodies also passed resolutions making commitments to voters about Project Connect. The council’s version stressed $300 million in anti-displacement investments and the importance of hiring local businesses and paying a living wage to people who work on the project. The Cap Metro board's resolution committed the agency to spending millions of its own money on expansion and not cutting current service levels to pay for Project Connect.   

Officials anticipate the federal government will pay for 45% of the plan, leaving the rest to be funded locally. 

The city and Cap Metro say they are committed to the full system plan, which is estimated to cost $10 billion, but said the initial investment gives the transit expansion effort a head start. 

Some people in the community said it was the wrong time for the proposal, and that officials should wait until economic conditions improve. But leaders said it was important to plan now for the future after COVID-19.

“We’re going to need a real transportation system that eases congestion, because we don’t want to go back to the past, we don’t want to go back to being stuck in traffic," said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who is also a Cap Metro board member. 

Other community members were concerned the proposed board would not have enough input from transit users. Both members of the council and board said the community would still have plenty of say moving forward, including input on a formal joint powers agreement that will have to be negotiated to formally establish the partnership. 

“As we work on details on how to deploy that and how to make this the best project it can be, I think that means we need to do continued work that’s transparent” said Council Member Greg Casar. “This is just the foundation and we still have work to do.”

This story has been updated. 

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Samuel King covers transportation and mobility for KUT News.
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