AUSTIN (KXAN) — People living in Austin are now getting a better look at how much taxpayers will have to pay if they want Capital Metro to build an extensive public transit system.
Project Connect aims to boost transit options and reduce congestion on Austin roads with several light rail routes, including an underground route in a portion of downtown.
The Orange Line would be a light rail train that would provide a north to south route running along the North Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, through the University of Texas at Austin’s campus into downtown and all the way to south Austin.
The Blue Line, also a light rail train, would carry riders to and from the airport to downtown.
Project Connect also includes several new bus lines and Park and Ride stations.
Funding the entire Project Connect vision, that the CapMetro Board approved and City Council endorsed, at full scale would cost $10 billion and result in an 11 cent tax rate increase.
CapMetro also revealed a scaled-down 70% option that would cost $7 billion with a smaller 8.5 cent tax rate increase compared to the full plan. CapMetro officials said they were taking into account the economic impact of COVID-19.
In this option, the Orange light rail route would be shortened. The two ends of the line would be replaced by a bus. The downtown tunnel would only carry the Orange and Blue Lines and the Gold Line would be a bus route instead of a light rail.
CapMetro said if the 70% initial investment plan is chosen, they’ll remain committed to building the entire system. Future funding sources to complete the project will be determined in the future.
Both scenarios count on CapMetro getting federal funding to cover about half of the total cost.
Capital Metro’s Dave Couch told KXAN, “Historically, those numbers in recent times have gone up to about 45% for projects. They were a little bit lower than that, and they started to come back up a little bit, so that’s the expectation.”
However, a new coalition is worried about that.
“We’re in unprecedented times. The fact that the federal government has given money out to cities in the past doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it in the future,” Roger Falk said.
He added, “This is like 10 times the biggest bond that’s ever been on the ballot.”
Others believe it’s an investment worth making.
Susan Somers with the Project Connect Ambassador Network and AURA said, “Giving people alternatives to sitting in their car and sitting in traffic, to have a transit option that is not competing with traffic that is rapid and fast and safe, is going to create so many benefits.”
Somers said, “It would be wonderful if we could approve the whole thing and just get it all done and voted all in. If we are able to approve something smaller, I still think that that’s a step in the positive direction.”
Austin City Council will review these funding options next week at a joint meeting with the Cap Metro Board.
Whichever they approve will be calculated in to the city’s overall tax rate. Then the council will have to order an election, so voters can weigh in.