$1 billion transportation bond proposition put on November ballot

AUSTIN -- It's the top complaint from people in Austin: Traffic.

Austin ranks as the fourth most congested city in the country. With land-locked freeways, city leaders have been studying transportation options for years. Their solution is Project Connect.

"Project Connect is a regional high capacity transportation plan for all of Central Texas that includes, express buses on managed lanes, bus rapid transit and rail," said John Langmore, Board Member of Capital Metro.

But the plan needs money, a $1 billion bond to be exact. If approved, $400 million would be used for road improvements, mainly on Interstate 35. The other $600 million would go toward creating an urban rail line from East Riverside to the Austin Community College Highland Campus. Bond money for the rail would only be issued if the city gets matching federal money for the project.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell has long supported urban rail, and he said the price tag would be a small sacrifice for taxpayers.

"There are a lot of folks moving here, and when you spread that cost out over the households it averages out to about the same per household as going to one movie a month, maybe with popcorn. And now you'll actually be able to make it there, make it where you're going and be on time," said Leffingwell.

To put a dollar amount on the 'movie a month,' Leffingwell said it is about $15 a month for the typical household and tax payers would see the increase in their tax bills in about three years, once the federal application for funding is approved.

The first hurdle to making rail a reality was for the City Council to approve a bond election.

During the Thursday City Council meeting citizen after citizen spoke out, some arguing the bond proposal is too expensive and that the road and rail projects should be separate. Others praised the proposal as a great vision to improve the quality of life for people in Austin.

It all came down to a vote and the City Council approved the bond proposition unanimously.

Mayor Leffingwell says there is no plan B for the city. If the bond doesn't pass, Austin will miss out on federal money, and there's no other transportation plan on the table.

Fourteen years ago was the last time Austin voters had a bond proposal that included rail. It failed.

The election is Nov. 4. Early voting begins Oct. 20.


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