Downtown Austin business leaders say Project Connect is a ‘critical’ need

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Downtown Austin business leaders say the need for Project Connect, the transit plan that proposes an underground subway system, light rail options and additional bus routes, is “critical.”

“Certainly a growing center like downtown Austin has challenges with traffic congestion and access so having a high capacity transit system is critical,” said Dewitt Peart, President & CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance.

There are nearly 100,000 workers who commute one way or another into downtown every day, and since 2013, the growth has shot up 19%, according to stats from the alliance.

“So when you think about the number of people commuting to the urban center and then you have others moving through the region at the same time that’s what creates traffic,” Peart said.

Stats compiled by the Downtown Austin Alliance show the makeup of downtown workers with about 30% working government jobs, 20% are in the tech world and about 15% are in the service industry.

Source: Downtown Austin Alliance

“I think in order for downtown Austin to continue to thrive and grow we have to continue to provide a variety of convenient affordable modes of transportation to move a lot of people,” Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs said.

At Silicon Labs, a fifth of the company’s employees use alternative modes of transportation — whether biking or public transit. Tuttle said he has made it an effort to provide incentives for employees who choose to commute outside of the traditional one driver, one car method.

That’s why Tuttle says Project Connect is a must. Those at the Downtown Austin Alliance agree.

“We will pay enormous prices as a region if we do not have a functional robust service system,” Peart said.

So far, Peart said the alliance has not heard from any downtown business opposed to Project Connect, but they plan to continue to meet with the downtown community.

Equity & Project Connect

Thursday, the Austin City Council will vote on a step to ensure new routes for Project Connect don’t kick anyone out of their homes. The plan to come up with Key Performance Indicators as part of its $300 million plan for anti-displacement efforts.

“What we’ve committed to is working with the community to decide what the strategies are,” explained Ann Kitchen, Councilmember for District 5 and Chair of the city’s Mobility Committee. “Is that affordable housing, is it rent assistance, is it helping people buy their homes, is it home repair? The community decides what is needed. Then, as part of deciding what is needed, is how do we measure whether we were successful?”

If approved, the resolution will also establish “triggers” for each Key Performance Indicator that, if reached, would “automatically result in a posted discussion item and opportunity for public comment on the agenda of the next City Council work session or meeting or appropriate Council Committee meeting in order to discuss the status of equity and anti-displacement strategies associated with Project Connect.”

The future of the $7 billion Project Connect will depend on voters — who must decide whether to approve an 8.75 cent tax rate increase that would raise taxes. That vote will likely come this November.

Proposed I-35 Downtown Changes

Another major transportation project downtown involves I-35. TxDOT is proposing adding two non-tolled managed lanes both ways along a stretch between U.S. Highway 290 to East Ben White Boulevard.

The Downtown Austin Alliance is asking the community to provide feedback through its effort “Our Future 35.” Feedback will then be given to TxDOT as they begin the project.

Right now, the TxDOT is in the environmental study and schematic design stage. Construction for the project wouldn’t start until 2025.

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