AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted unanimously to put the Project Connect tax rate increase on the November ballot on Thursday. The future of the $7 billion project would then depend on voters — who must decide whether to approve an 8.75 cent tax rate increase.
The transit plan will feature an underground subway-esque system, a downtown tunnel with light rail, additional buses and MetroRail.
“I think we have an excellent product to offer to the voters,” Council member Ann Kitchen said.
We are not setting ourselves up for failure like other cities and other transit agencies have done. This is a long-term, sustainable funding form,” Council member Jimmy Flannigan said.
The downtown tunnel is estimated to be about a mile and a half and would run under Guadalupe Street, then travel north underneath Trinity Street until it reaches 4th Street. From there, it would continue west under 4th Street until it runs into Guadalupe.
“If you don’t build the downtown tunnel you’re just putting buses or trains in the same traffic as the cars are sitting,” said Flannigan, Austin Council Member for District 6 and Vice-Chair for the city’s Mobility Committee. “It is an absolutely critical element of this proposal.”
The underground system will separate light rail from downtown traffic, which CapMetro said will ensure a faster and safer commute. Renderings of the downtown tunnel highlight restaurants and shopping and additional amenities.
“The tunnel allows us to access this tremendous transit system and create new spaces and take advantage downtown in new ways,” added Alison Alter, Austin Council Member for District 10.
Where exactly CapMetro will dig and where the tunnel will pop up above ground is unclear. Transit agency officials said they need to perform additional engineering to determine exact locations.
“If we don’t do the tunnel then we’re going to be taking away mobility on the surface, and we’re going to be taking whole segments of our streets that are congested right now,” Alter said.
The downtown tunnel is estimated to cost around $2 billion.
“I really want to encourage everyone to support this project because its really gonna save you some money,” Council member Pio Renteria said.
“Its a really exciting time about changing the way we do things in a variety of ways,” Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said.
The council approved to execute a joint local government corporation to implement Project Connect Wednesday, with the help of CapMetro.
This corporation will be called the Austin Transit Partnership. Technically, the council voted on this item last week, but due to some technical problems, it voted again Wednesday to make sure the vote was legal.