AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin voters passed Proposition A, giving the green light to the city’s most ambitious public transportation plan.
“It truly is a transformational plan, a very large expansion of our bus system including rapid buses, rail lines and an underground subway system in the downtown area, a lot of park and rides, neighborhood circulators,” said Randy Clarke, President and CEO of Capital Metro. “This is a transformational mobility, kind of environmental equity plan for our city and I am really proud of the team and appreciative of the community having trusted confidence in us in driving this forward.”
Prop. A proposed a high-speed transit system throughout Austin, dubbed “Project Connect.” It will include the city’s first light rail system, add new bus routes, create a new downtown tunnel system, and provide $300 million for affordable housing.
The measure passed with 240,553 (57.9%) votes in favor, to 174,590 (42.1%) opposed.
“I’m proud to live in a city that is looking to its future — one not satisfied with the status quo,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “Austin is pushing to be more sustainable, equitable, and affordable in new and innovative ways.”
The project will cost $7.1 billion, about 55% of which will be funded by a city tax rate increase. The plan calls for raising the operations and maintenance portion of the city’s tax rate by 8.75 cents, amounting to an increase of about 3.8% to the average Austin resident’s property tax bill.
The increase will show up on bills the city is sending out now. They’ll be due January 31.
“We understood regardless if someone supported Prop A, or didn’t support Prop A, we own that responsibility to deliver this program,” said Clarke. “It is a community asset and we own that responsibility to deliver that program to all of Austin whether again if you support it or not. We are going to do that in a transparent, cost effective and community centric way.”
In addition to work on the Red Line in 2021, neighborhood circulators will be added in 2021. Those will be shuttle buses that go into less populated neighborhoods that may not have close access to a train or bus. They’ll pick people up on-demand, then take them to a spot where they can connect with one of the city’s main transit options.
Proponents of the plan cite the need for public transit in order to provide options for low-income workers, relieve traffic congestion, and reduce carbon emissions in Austin.
When will we see the project begin?
“We have some projects already in the federal process in the metro rapid projects, we have a few of the metro red line project improvements already started design,” said Clarke. “So our goal is to work through that with the community in the design process and ideally get in the ground as early as late next year on a couple of first route projects.”
Opponents opposed the plan from a financial perspective, arguing that it is inappropriate to increase property taxes during the pandemic. Some groups such as Voices of Austin argued that the plan would increase the average city tax bill by 25%, a claim that the city has refuted. While the city’s tax rate would be set at 20.4% under Prop A, most residents will only see an increase of 3.8% over last year’s bill.
On Wednesday, KXAN spoke with David Kruger, owner of Kruger Diamond Jewelers on Congress Avenue. The store has been a family run establishment in downtown Austin for 81 years. Kruger is concerned that the increase he’ll face in property taxes due to Project Connect will make it hard to stay afloat.
Kruger says he not only pays property taxes on the building he leases, but also on all of the jewels in his store.
When asked how much the tax rate increase will cost him, he joked, telling KXAN he hadn’t checked yet because he didn’t want to have a coronary event.
“I really don’t want to look at it, because I’m scared or what it’s going to be. It’s going to be in the thousands and thousands of dollars,” Kruger said. “I’ll probably, instead of having a coronary event, just wait until I get the notice and maybe contest it or something.”