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Let's Go Austin campaign kickoffMore than 60 supporters gathered on the front steps of Austin City Hall on Aug. 20 to kick off the Let's Go Austin political action committee campaign. The group is led by Greg Hartman, Seton Healthcare president of academic medicine, research and external affairs.
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Courtesy Project Connect
Proposed urban rail mapThe 9.5-mile proposed urban rail route would run from East Riverside Drive at Grove Boulevard to Austin Community College's Highland campus. It would have 16 stations.
Armed with slogans of “Traffic bites. Bite back” and “With roads and rail we cannot fail,” the Let’s Go Austin political action committee kicked off a campaign Aug. 20 to encourage support for the proposed $1 billion rail and road bond that comes before voters Nov. 4.
The ballot measure will ask voters to authorize the city of Austin to sell $600 million in general obligation bonds for a 9.5-mile urban rail route to run from East Riverside Drive, through downtown and The University of Texas to Austin Community College’s Highland campus.
The bond is conditional upon the city garnering matching funds for the project from the Federal Transit Administration as well as securing $400 million for road projects throughout the city.
“We may wind up borrowing a good portion or even all of that. This represents a covenant with the voters that we plan to spend $400 million on roads,” Mayor Lee Leffingwell said.
Funding for roads could come from issuing certificates of obligation or by applying for state highway bonds and grants, he said.
“Our traffic crisis not only steals our time, but it has far-reaching consequences for our entire region and threatens our economy, our reputation and even our quality of life. Today we begin to fight back,” Leffingwell said.
The bond will be on a crowded ballot that consists of statewide races, including the governor’s race, as well as the race for a new Austin mayor and 10 City Council members. Austin Community College is also asking voters to approve a $386 million bond package to aid the district’s growth as well as a 3 cent tax cap increase.
Greg Hartman, Seton Healthcare Family president of academic medicine, research and external affairs, who played a key role in encouraging voters to approve funding for the new Dell Medical School, is leading the Let’s Go Austin PAC. Hartman said voters will have tough decisions about what investments they want to make in the community, especially given that affordability is a big issue.
“I think Austin and Travis County voters have always looked at the value of what they’re being asked to pay for and made really smart decisions,” he said. “They turned down some bad ideas or things that weren’t fully thought out. I think in this case you have both the transportation plan and an ACC plan that’s well-thought-out and that really has some big advantages to the community.”
Sound bites: City leaders voice support
- “This proposal is a down payment on our future. It is a proposal that includes a massive transportation vision as set out by the mayor. It also includes [preparations for] Lone Star Rail, which is a line that will go from Georgetown all the way to San Antonio." —Sheryl Cole, mayor pro tem
- “[When it comes to] Austin’s transportation crisis, there’s not a simple solution. It is going to take a multimodal approach—roads, rail, sidewalks, bikeways—so that all Austinites can get around.” —Mike Martinez, city councilman and chairman of the Capital Metro board of directors
- “This may be our last chance. … What we’re missing is one thing: urban rail, so it can all be connected seamlessly.” —Dick Kallerman, Austin chapter of the Sierra Club
- “Prop. 1 is not just about rail. It’s about roads and having every single tool that we need to address transportation and congestion. This is the most important election in Austin in the last 25 to 50 years.” —Pete Winstead, vice chairman of economic development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and chairman of Opportunity Austin
- "People are making investments in rail [throughout the country] as an augmented and alternative to roads, and it works. ... If we don’t start now and approve these bonds and get Prop. 1 passed, it may be too late.” —Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs
- "Prop. 1 is not only necessary but it will benefit many families in the city with jobs and allow other families to possibly reduce the money they spend on transportation and make life more affordable." —Pastor Joseph Parker, David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church
- “The next stop in Project Connect is rail to connect these three centers—[Highland, downtown and East Riverside]—and tee up future extension to other town centers." —Dave Sullivan, Austin Planning Commission chairman
Opponents of the current Austin rail proposal include the Our Rail political action committee, a grass-roots group of residents who support building rail on the North Lamar Boulevard/Guadalupe Street corridor, something proponents of the bond say is not feasible because of a reduction in vehicle traffic lanes; a rail line along that corridor would take up one lane in each direction that is currently used for vehicle traffic.
Surinder Marwaha, a former Capital Metro planner and project manager, said that even if building rail on Lamar/Guadalupe would reduce traffic by one lane in each direction, roads can only handle a capacity of about 600 drivers per hour, but rail could accommodate upwards of 10,000 people per hour.
“If you cannot have a dedicated lane, why build [rail]?” Marwaha said.
He added the proposed plan would not connect to major activity centers such as the west side of downtown or West Campus at UT where most students are located. The rail line would also have an anticipated 18,000 average daily ridership, but Marwaha said this is far lower than the projected 2030 ridership on the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor of about 37,600 daily riders.
“What it means is the taxpayer—if the [Highland-East Riverside] corridor is approved and built—[will] be paying a much higher subsidy per trip,” he said.