AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the Austin Transit Partnership released its initial Project Connect light rail recommendation Tuesday, local leaders are starting to react to the announcement.

“For more than twenty years, Austin has tried to build a light rail system that brings our
community closer together and today, we know what will be built for this community, and by this community, in this first phase of Austin Light Rail Implementation,” Mayor Kirk Watson said in a statement.

“This project is about more than just trains and buses. It’s about addressing affordability, meeting our climate goals, and prioritizing accessibility for ALL Austinites,” Council Member Vanessa Fuentes wrote.

Fuentes’ district includes the airport, which is not connected as part of the initial plan.

“From the thousands of comments that were turned in, connecting to the airport was the top common comment. So I was pleased to see that that was prioritized as a prioritization extension,” she told KXAN.

“This option best reflects the needs and values of the Austin community and lays the best foundation for future expansions and extensions in all three directions,” Greg Canally, executive director of ATP, said. “We heard support from community and advocacy groups for this option as it provides critical connections for people, and we are proud to listen to and take into account that feedback.”

KXAN also asked Watson about a bill working its way through the state legislature, HB 3899, which could challenge Project Connect funding. Dubbed the “No Blank Checks Act,” the legislation aims “to ensure local government corporations in Texas follow the same rules as cities and counties when issuing debt backed by property taxes.”

Under the bill, any local government corporation created through a tax rate increase election would be required to abide by the same rules cities and counties do when issuing debt. In the case of the Austin Transit Partnership — the organization created to oversee Project Connect — HB 3899 would apply to any debt they issue in the future for the transit program.

“This bill is much, much bigger than Austin now. And this fight is far from over,” Watson said.

“The majority of Austinties have voted and shared that they want a transformational transit system and so I can’t wait for the state legislature to refocus their attention to the true priorities for Texans,” Fuentes added.