AUSTIN, Texas — This November, Austin voters will have the chance to vote on Capital Metro’s $7.1 billion "Project Connect" transit plan, which includes multiple new rail lines, rapid bus transit lines and more. It’s a plan Austin Mayor Steve Adler thinks could greatly improve life for Austinites.
"Project Connect meets so many long-held needs, critical needs for this city, beginning with traffic. If you’ve lived in the city for any length of time, you know how challenging that is to our city. There’s nothing that we could be doing that would have a greater impact long-term on traffic than the project," Adler told KVUE. "It’s the most significant thing we could be doing on climate change. It’s going to reduce fatalities, make our mobility safer in our city. It’s going to finally provide true equity and mobility to essential workers in our city."
Adler recognized that the total overall cost of the plan might come with “sticker shock” for some voters related to what a "yes" vote could mean for their tax bill. But he also pointed out that the City won’t be paying for all of it.
"It’s not going to get built unless we get the federal grant that all indications are that we’ll get, and that’ll pay for just about half of the project. So, we’re talking about something that is less than $4 billion,” Adler said. “I point out the [Interstate] 35 projects that the State’s doing … that’s an $8 billion project. So, just by way of comparison, it costs less for us than what the cost is going to be on I-35. Because it’s a big project, it does require an increase in property taxes. It’ll be about a 4% increase on someone’s tax bill."
According to the resolution the council approved, even if the federal funding doesn't come through, the tax revenue will still be collected to "fund as much of the initial investment ... as possible."
The mayor believes moving forward with Project Connect is a chance for Austinites to improve the quality of life in the city and elevate Austin to become a better version of itself.
"The quality of life in this city is getting so eroded by traffic … Traffic [has] been getting worse and worse and worse and with its impact on our quality of life, if we don’t do something that adds equity to mobility and choices for people in our city, the disparities in our city will continue to grow," Adler said.
"We have the ability and chance to come out of this virus as a better, fairer, more just city that can really reach for the aspirations that we have for our community," the mayor added. "And if we don’t take advantage of this moment, this time, to be able to move forward on Project Connect, I don’t think we get another chance to make the same kind of choices."
Adler also addressed some concerns that people have voiced about Project Connect’s proposed light rail and whether light rail is outdated technology. Adler said that he has visited other cities in the U.S. that are using light rail and not only is it a modern technology, what city leaders have found is that if Austin relies only on buses and rapid bus transit systems on the city’s most trafficked routes, it would have "already maxed out its capacity by the time we finished building."
Economically, Adler stated that Project Connect could have a huge positive impact in Austin. According to the mayor, the project would bring tens of thousands of new, high-paying jobs – and the economic impact would be coming at a time when Austin is trying to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Austin is a creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, caring city. One of the last cities to go into the old recession, the Great Recession, one of the first cities to come out. That’s kind of our brand. It’s who we are … But the virus’s impact relative to the Great Recession has been much greater," Adler said. "We’re going to need more and greater tools that we can build into our future to help ensure that we’re one of the first to come out of the economic collapse and that we’re able to sustain for a long period of time."
According to a campaign finance report filed on Oct. 5, Adler has donated $500 to Mobility for All, a pro-Project Connect PAC.
Early voting for the November election starts Tuesday, Oct. 13, and runs through Friday, Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.
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