‘That, to me, is gross inequity’: Major transit proposal Project Connect faces new opposition

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group in Austin is expressing new opposition to Project Connect.

The $7.1 billion transit project would be funded in part by a proposition on the ballot next month. If Austin voters approve Proposition A, it’ll mean an 8.75 cent tax rate increase to build an underground transit system, along with light rail and more bus routes.

People in the group protesting the proposal Wednesday describe themselves as grassroots progressive leaders who oppose Project Connect.

Those in the group have a number of arguments.

“Our communities will be paying for something they will not get to use for the next 10 or 20 years,” said Frances Acuna from Go Austin/Vamos Austin.

“I think the timing is wrong. I think asking people to try to evaluate this during a pandemic is wrong,” said local attorney Fred Lewis.

The group’s main argument is concern that CapMetro’s plan would make owning a home or renting even more unaffordable for low-income and minority Austinites.

Austinite Anaka Rivera described it as, “An additional tax burden that yields benefits for a few at the significant cost of the many.”

However, those advocating for the project argue it would have significant benefits for those same communities.

“You have to have affordable housing, access to education and employment and transit,” said District 1 Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison. “That’s absolutely one of the most imperative components for people being able to live affordably and have access to the things they need. I know for a fact that black, brown and lower income residents disproportionately make up CapMetro’s ridership, and frankly, as far as I’m concerned, it’s well past time that we made investments to give them something better than second-rate and third-class transportation systems.”

Harper-Madison says as a fast-growing, major city, Austin should already have a better transit system than it does.

“We’re behind, and so recognizing that we’re operating at a deficit already, we have to retrofit the city,” she said.

When asked about other benefits of the project, Harper-Madison said there’s a long list.

“Managing congestion, fighting climate change, expanding equity, creating and preserving affordable housing,” she said.

Harper-Madison also touts the $300 million commitment built into the project to offset displacement of people living in areas where it will be built.

The group announcing opposition Wednesday is skeptical, comparing it to the Riverside Corridor where some say the same was promised, but not delivered.

“It’s displacement and then, ‘we’ll invite you back into these high-income luxury businesses and apartments that you can’t afford.’ That, to me, is gross inequity, systemic inequity,” said Austinite David King.

However, Harper-Madison says city leaders and CapMetro are considering a number of different solutions to help people stay in place.

“We definitely have taken into consideration how important it is to ensure some guaranteed affordability,” she said, “And that’s not luxury housing. That’s deeply affordable housing along transit corridors. And those are conversations that continue to evolve.”

Harper-Madison also says if Project Connect is approved, she believes the city can use the project to attract even larger investments from state and federal government to provide more affordable housing.

Opponents of the project, however, suggested a different compromise.

“It should be scaled back and proposed in smaller, less expensive phases that produce equitable public benefits and prove the efficacy and equity of the transit investments,” King said.

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