Austin coalition ramps up for transit bond larger than 2014’s failed train plan

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – More than 50 organizations like the AARP, Environment Texas, and Austin Community College, joined local Austin elected officials. The new group is called Transit for Austin.

Their goal: to pitch a massive bond for bus lines, rail lines, and transit lines in the November 2020 election. They’ll use the next few months to ask people what they want in Austin – then they’ll come up with a plan and a price-tag.

We’ve been through something similar before and Austin voters rejected the idea at the time. In 2014, Austin’s “proposition one” included $600 million for a nine-mile rail line and $400 million for roads. It would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $217 a year.

This new plan for November 2020 is going to be larger and much more expensive. The group’s leaders believe Austin voters will pay for a plan that improves their lives.

“What I’ve always found the people that live in Austin and Central Texas is they want to be informed. They’re willing to listen and to engage. And then they’re willing to invest in their future if it makes sense,” said Texas Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

“I think people want to support something if they think it’s going to fundamentally change mobility in our city. People don’t want us nibbling around the edges anymore. They want us to actually do something that changes the arc of this city,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

On October 30th there will be a work session between Capital Metro and the Austin City Council. They hope to eventually present different options for people to consider.

Angela De Hoyos Hart spoke at a Monday press conference for Transit for Austin and says traffic has only become worse after high prices moved her family out of Central Austin. She says her son Joaquin has bad reflux and can only be in a car-seat five minutes before the screams start.

“So you can imagine 45 minutes. An hour and a half each way. That’s a long torturous ride for all of us. For him physically and for us emotionally,” said De Hoyos Hart.

She spoke at Transit for Austin’s announcement, joining groups saying it will help fight climate change and high home prices. But will people in the area agree to pay for it?

“I think we have to. Transit is like planting a tree. The best time to do was yesterday. The next best time to do it is right now,” said De Hoyos Hart.

All of this happens in the shadow of the failed 2014 bond. Roger Falk is an analyst for groups like the Travis County Taxpayers Union and helped defeat that bond. He says simply, publicly-funded busses and train projects are ideas of the past.

“Its big failing is it’s inconvenient. It’s not on-demand and point to point like ridesharing would be,” said Falk.

He says carsharing, downtown scooters, and the coming of self-driving cars will make our roads more efficient. That’s happening already – without raising taxes.

“This could have made sense in the last century in maybe the 80s. But we have moved on and technology and transportation is a state of flux. It makes no sense. In fact, it’s almost insane to invest in old technology,” said Falk.

The final product in 2020 will add to the 2016 mobility bond. Austin voters approved $720-million to upgrade our major transit corridors like Lamar, Riverside, and Burnet.

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