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Austin Transit Partnership holds open house to discuss Project Connect's core light rail plans

Austin residents unable to attend the open house can provide feedback on the plans online.

AUSTIN, Texas —

Austin residents got a chance to have their voices heard about Project Connect's core light rail plans during an open house Tuesday night. 

The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) is implementing Project Connect and hosted the open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Austin Central Library on West Cesar Chavez Street. 

At the open house, the group showed five different options for the light rail: on-street routes from North Lamar to Pleasant Valley; 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket; and 29th to Airport. Additionally, there's a partial underground route from UT to Yellow Jacket; and a partial elevated route from 29th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket.

 ATP explained that these routes are what "make sense" for Austin. 

"Some of them have two lines, some of them have one line, some of them go a little further north, some of them go a little further south. We think in each of these options, the most important thing is these options are connecting destinations, they're connecting people to jobs, to medical appointments and to entertainment," ATP Executive Director Greg Canally said. 

When voters approved Project Connect in 2020, the plan included a Blue light rail line that stretched from downtown to Austin's airport; an Orange rail line running north and south, connecting through Republic Square; a Green line going from downtown east to Colony Park neighborhood; and a Gold line, which is a new rapid bus route and three new MetroRapid bus routes. 

The overall price for the project has also gone up since it was voted on in 2020. At that time, it was set to cost just over $7 billion – but more recent estimates put the cost at more than $10 billion.

ATP said it is proposing "different routes" because they are more "feasible" within the $5 billion budget for light rail. 

Some politicians were concerned the City would issue more bond dollars to pay for the project, so Austin-area State Rep. Ellen Troxclair (R) filed House Bill 3899, which she calls the "No Blank Checks Act." It would require voter approval for specific projects and the specific purpose of each bond would have to be listed on the ballot.  

"It's really important for the taxpayers and for transparency and accountability that we make it very clear that you have to ask permission before you spend other people's money," Troxclair said. "This doesn't stop the project. It doesn't do anything other than require them to put the project on the ballot with the correct wording with a specific amount of money so the taxpayers know what they're signing up for." 

The bill was referred to a House committee this week, but there's no word on when there could be a hearing. An identical version of the bill was filed in the Senate.

The Austin Transit Partnership will gather input on the light rail options for the next six weeks, then send the recommendations off to policymakers, who will come up with the final plan by June. 

"We want to get everyone's opinion as we move forward on finalizing a recommendation in the upcoming months so we can move ahead on implementing Austin light rail and fulfilling the will of the voters from November 2020. Austin Transit Partnership is committed," Canally said.

"We've been working hard with our experts internally and in our partners to deliver options that the community can weigh in on and give us their feedback and their thoughts. And that's why it's really critical for them to come out and see these final options, weigh in on it," Canally added. "Let us know how they feel about them [the options] so that we can take that information and make informed decision with our experts." 

If you were unable to attend Tuesday's open house, you can review the plans online and submit your feedback that way. You can also email input@atptx.org or mail your comments and questions at 203 Colorado Street., Austin, TX, 78701.

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