Austin’s urban rail plan could cost $1.4 billion



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The primary selling point is fixing our traffic congestion

They want to jack up property taxes to 'fix traffic congestion'.

AISD's in the process of selling $480M in bonds, the new $67M Austin Energy building, new $120M library, new $524M water treatment plant, new $300M county courthouse, $400M ACC bond request, etc. etc. all being adding on to rents and property taxes. We've lost sanity in the delusion of wants and detail. This is just the FIRST STEP and most of the promises aren't covered by the funds requested. This is a 'wetting of the beak'. CURRENT city resident bond debt repayment already exceeds $10,000/person (before the NEW debt coming). Our city budget per citizen is 50% higher than San Antonio - adjusted for the public utilities. Current interest rates, which will soon be rising make every bond dollar cost $1.53 to repay. The $1.4B price tag is actually $2,1B - don't let them fool you. Say how's that $500M biomass plant we bought doing, how many remember the myriad of promises made on that one?

The most optimistic ridership projections constitute a minuscule fraction of our hundreds of thousands of commuters. Think a $1.4B train with a full capacity of 1,750 riders will have any appreciable difference in our traffic congestion? Since the trolley doesn't go to the outbound areas, major neighborhoods or the places commuters actually originate, they clearly won't be riding it and still be in the commuter lines. It will do nothing significant for traffic - a truth proponents cannot refute.

Advocates 'plan' relies on uncommitted or secured Federal funds - 'trust us'. Fed funds are pretty scarce, getting scarcer and the pot already has $17,000,000,000,000 in IOU's in it. Our city and our country is swimming in red ink and they want to borrow more for a train that does little to address its primary selling point. Is it really wise to divert critical transit dollars for a 9 mile, 20 mph trolley that serves at best .03% of citizens, when it could be used for solutions that benefit everyone?

Hey, it's an INVESTMENT in the future - is that the same future where digitally interconnected and autonomous transit systems make these 1800's solutions obsolete? If we're betting on the future, perhaps we should be looking forward not backward for solutions.

DO THE MATH! The cost of this boondoggle assuming 16,000 routine riders, equates to $87,500/rider! How about the operating costs? The 'Red Line' that serves 1,500 ACTUAL commuters spends over $1M/month for operation; that's $666/commuter EVERY MONTH! That equates to $22/ride; based on transit pass costs we get back $2.50. The 'Red Line' came in LATE, OVER BUDGET and has yet to get close to meeting the promises sold to us by the same propaganda machine behind 'Project Connect'. And we want to double down on this "success"? Really?

"Light rail is the second best scheme to liberate money from the taxpayer to fill the feed troughs of corporate special interests"

Roger 345 days ago

Roger, brilliantly said!

I hope you don't mind if I share your comments to others. I could not have said it better myself.

Steve 337 days ago

Economic Development Math Doesn't Add Up

"Implementing the full project could bring in between $6.3 billion–$9.1 billion in new development by 2030, Keahey said. It could also bring between $37.5 million–$55.2 million in new tax revenue by 2030 and draw 14,400–17,700 residents and 14,700–26,800 employees within a half-mile radius of the route"

These figures are more or less garbage. How much of that development would occur in Austin - either in this corridor or somewhere else - whether or not this light rail line is built? The total borders on 100%. These sorts of claims aren't unique to this type of project - sports stadiums are notorious for it, claiming that every restaurant and bar near a stadium is generating new economic activity rather than merely moving the spending of entertainment dollars from elsewhere in the same metro area.

So, the real question is, how does this spending compare versus other the cost of other alternatives to move an equivalent number of people to homes and businesses - whether that be through road and highway improvements, via other forms of public transit such as buses, or by building rail somewhere else? The figures cited by Keahey tell us nothing to answer this key question.

Dave 352 days ago

Re: Economic Development Math Doesn't Add Up

Hi Dave, on your question about how much development would occur regardless of the project, you are correct in that the figures have not subtracted that out. UT is doing the economic impact study, and I believe they should be working on getting that information. We will definitely include it in future articles once we receive that info. I know the members of CCAG were also inquiring about that.

Amy Denney

Amy Denney 351 days ago

Anti-BRT Logic Doesn't Make Sense

"The planning team also considered bus-rapid transit, or BRT, similar to Capital Metro’s MetroRapid service. But Keahey said BRT would not have the capacity to handle the projected ridership and could not be expanded beyond the initial phase."

The plan is to have trains with a 10 minute headway. So, regarding the first point, name me a route in the city of Austin where buses with a 10 minute headway couldn't handle all the ridership? I've ridden some of the more crowded bus routes, and the buses are crowded, but have at least standing room available, with headways of 20 minutes or greater.

The second point doesn't make any sense either. Why can't BRT service be expanded in the future just as light rail could?

My strong suspicion is that the real answer on both of these is that transit advocates perceive light rail is "cool" and "urban" in a way that bus service isn't.

Dave 352 days ago

Oh reaaaly

"At least one group opposes Project Connect’s recommendation of the Highland-East Riverside route." You forgot to mention every singe central Austin neighborhood association, except for Mueller of course.

Steve M 357 days ago

bonds vs rail

Continual nickle and diming taxpayers with these bonds adds up over period of time to the onerous tax burden we enjoy here today. You pay for what you get no matter where you go. Only a few people will use/benefit from 9.5 miles of rail. Nobody rides the bus at this time.

tom brown 362 days ago

Urban Rail = more bonds

Please research and publish a thorough overview of past and current bonds that taxpayers are now covering through property taxes. This urban rail plan would add +/-$153 per year to our property taxes. That would be in addition to X $ that have been added over the last ten years. Have any bonds been paid off, retired, and the taxes home down?

Andy 363 days ago

Re: urban rail = more bonds

Hi Andy, thank you for reading the article and providing your feedback. I wanted to share the link to the April 29 presentation that the city's finance department made to City Council. You may download it here:

The presentation has thorough information on the city's debt capacity and bonds that are still active. It also provides more information about how much the city would need to increase the debt service tax rate to sell bonds for the project. The $153 per year would be the maximum increase on tax bills if the debt service tax rate was raised by 6 cents (it also would not be all at once but layered in). Page 19 provides the increase on tax bills for increasing the tax rate between 1 cent and 5 cents.

You may also view the meeting here (it's about an hour):

The city's budget department also has a very detailed website that may provide you with more information:

Please let me know if you have any other questions or feel free to email me at

Amy Denney
Editor, Northwest Austin

Amy Denney 363 days ago


You need to be very careful to present a balanced report on this dubious 'want'. Regurgitating the advocacy line ISN'T reporting. I realize Sherry Matthews Advocacy Consulting has a lot of lobby power and 'friends' in the media - as does the city where you want access. Before duping voters like on the Medical School (Central Health has ZERO money in any budget document funding a medical school, WHY? Wasn't their tax increase sold to us as buying a medical school? It was a LIE and you either missed it or worse). Powerful forces are at work here to sell voters on forking over hundreds of millions. Who stands to gain? Follow the money. What could we do that would best benefit Austin for these dollars?

Unbiased, balanced reporting is a responsibility of a press with integrity. I think you have a good little paper, don't destroy your reputation by succumbing to the power payers who will make you just another propaganda rag like the Chronicle.

Roger 345 days ago

Re: credibility alert

Hi Roger, thank you for reading the article and responding. On your credibility concern, I can assure you I have had no contact with Sherry Matthews Advocacy Consulting, and no one on the city staff has influenced how I have reported this story or previous articles on the urban rail project. It is important to note that even though I am reporting on this issue, it does not equate to Community Impact Newspaper's or my personal endorsement of this or any transit project. Although I quoted rail lead Kyle Keahey, it does not mean I am advocating for the project. He is the representative authorized to speak to the media on the proposal.

This is the article that appeared in the May 22 issue and was the first time many of our readers would have seen any of the details of the urban rail project in print (our website has more extensive coverage of the urban rail planning process). It was important to include all the components and details of the proposal so that readers can make their own decision on the project. Our publication's mission is to arm readers with the facts, and we strive for unbiased, balanced reporting. I will continue reporting on this issue with multiple points-of-view and additional analysis of its impact to voters.

Amy Denney, Editor for Northwest Austin 345 days ago

They never stop

When bonds are paid off they are quickly replaced by more, more, more. A serious flaw in their 'property tax projection' exists. With the new appraisals the average home is $280,000 NOT $200,000. Add 40% to their number.

Visit the Texas Bond Review board for the specifics on Austin bonds.

Roger 345 days ago

Re: Article written by Project Connect ???

Hi RCM, thank you for reading the article and taking the time to comment. This is the first time we have had an article in our print publication since the Project Connect team unveiled the final plan, route details and costs during the May 2 and 16 meetings. That is why you will see a lot of information directly from them regarding the project. This is the first time many readers may have ever seen these details, and we felt it was important to highlight them at this time. We are planning to cover the issue during the next few months as voters may decide on a potential bond to fund the project Nov. 4. In the last third of the article, I interviewed three different sources about their view of the project. One of those sources is Scott Morris who supports rail on the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor that you mention. We will continue publishing balanced articles that reflect more than one viewpoint on this subject. Our mission is to arm residents with facts so that they may have their own opinions on issues that affect them. Again, thank you for writing in.

Amy Denney Editor, Northwest Austin 364 days ago

"Our Rail" conflict of interest

It's worth noting that Scott Morris' "Our Rail" group is the twin of his Central AUstin CDC group - an alliance of property owners up and down North Lamar. They have a direct financial interest in promoting projects that make their properties more valuable.

Alan H 358 days ago


Let's see, that would be 145 million dollars per mile, or 10 million dollars per block, 15 houses per block, or $670,000,000 per house. What would it cost us to buy the houses and expand MoPac? A HECK of a lot less. 20,000 riders? MoPac currently carries almost ten TIMES that amount!

Jay Barstow 364 days ago


Until Austin figures out how to increase population density (not just downtown) in neighborhood pockets the rail is just throwing money down the sewer. It may look great but if it just shuttles UT students from riverside to 6th street to campus, why not just buy them some beer and be done with it.

Rober K. Johnson 365 days ago

Article written by Project Connect ??? (Need Guad / Lamar, not another failed Red Line debacle)

TL;DR = Right route is Lamar / Guadalupe, not a route desperately hoping for economic development and job / population growth

This article is shockingly empty of public transit facts.
It seems to be based on Project Connect press releases (which are highly deceptive).

Indeed, this article appears to have been written entirely from the perspective of the "Project Connect" folks and their affiliates (politically connected suburban real estate developers and promoters of the new ACC campus at Highland Mall).

Can Community Impact contact the real public transit experts on this point?
Almost all of them (all very pro-public-transit and pro-rail) very strongly oppose this extremely wasteful Project Connect plan.

By far the best route for rail would be one similar to the 2000 light rail plan that was defeated by real estate developers, suburban Republicans, and a few extremely short-sighted South Austin restaurant owners.

Rail should be where it is cost / effective -- where the residents and jobs and daily shopping / eating places are.
NOT where some pie-in-the-sky-developer hopes to drive growth.

RCM 365 days ago

Texans want federal funding

Why are they asking for federal funding? What happened to seceding and not needing govt because we build everything ourselves. I guess Texans are just hot air.

Wing Nut 365 days ago

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