This Nov. 3, city residents will determine the fate of Proposition A. If approved, it will increase the city's property tax rate by 20% to help fund Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of Austin's public transit system.
The upcoming tax rate election is historic in its scope (and cost). Additionally, the pandemic has raised questions about the long-term future of work-from-home policies and local traffic congestion.
With early voting starting Tuesday—and less than a month until Election Day—we've rounded up our weeks of coverage on this issue, which answers some big questions.
There are two light rail lines included in the "initial investment" under Project Connect.
The orange line would run approximately 21 miles from the North Lamar Transit Center at North Lamar Boulevard and Hwy. 183 to Stassney Lane.
The blue line would run approximately 15 miles from the North Lamar Transit Center through downtown and east to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
What is the proposed pathway of the downtown underground tunnel included in the "initial investment" of Project Connect?
The tunnel proposal is still being developed, but preliminary maps show its rough pathway is south from 11th and Guadalupe streets to Republic Square; east along 4th Street to the Downtown Station, which is between Trinity and Red River streets; and north along Trinity to 12th Street.
The tunnel would also continue south from the Downtown Station to the Mexican-American Cultural Center on Rainey Street, where one of the proposed light rail lines would then progress above ground across Lady Bird Lake to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
If approved, Proposition A would lead to a 20% increase to the city of Austin's property tax rate. It's important to note, however, that city property owners also pay property taxes to other entities, including Austin ISD, Travis County, Austin Community College and Central Health. If Proposition A is approved, city residents would see their overall property tax bill increase by around 4% because of Project Connect. Those who live outside the city limits will not be impacted.
Mobility for All, a recently formed political action committee that supports Proposition A, represents a broad coalition of community advocates and elected officials, including all 10 members of Austin City Council, Mayor Steve Adler, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Austin Tech Alliance, Environment Texas and the Travis County Democratic Party.
Both argue that Project Connect is too expensive—the median homeowner will see a $317 increase to their tax bill this year, if it is approved—and that the city is overpromising to voters what it can realistically achieve.
Capital Metro and city officials say federal funding is very likely to come through if voters approve Proposition A. But opponents have raised concerns about their claims, and U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said such funding likely hinges on the political affiliations of the president.
Capital Metro expects that Project Connect will lead to a tripling of its ridership. And Dr. Chandra Bhat, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin, said such increased capacity will be needed given Austin's unabated population growth.
But critics of Project Connect dispute these ridership projections, arguing that anyone with the option to drive will choose to do so and pointing to a drop in ridership since the pandemic.
Like most issues surrounding the transit plan, supporters and opponents have diverging takes on this one.
Supporters stress that Project Connect, if built, will help make Austin a more equitable city, both by expanding transit infrastructure and allocating $300 million in funding for anti-displacement initiatives.
But opponents say it is unconscionable to propose a tax rate increase when so many Austinites are struggling financially because of the pandemic. They also argue that the new work-from-home policies should be factored into ridership expectations.
Proponents of Project Connect say it will help make Austin a more equitable city by ensuring residents have access to an affordable and comprehensive transit system. But past transit initiatives suggest that the project could deepen the fault lines it hopes to address, which is why Austin City Council has allocated $300 million in anti-displacement initiatives under the proposed plan.
Capital Metro debuted an updated Project Connect proposal in June, which included nearly $3 billion in cuts in light of the pandemic. The changes included shortening the proposal Orange light rail line and replacing the proposed Gold light rail line with MetroRapid service. As a result, the proposed increase to the city of Austin's property tax rate fell from 11 cents to 8.75 cents.
Jenna Maxfield, a spokesperson for Capital Metro, wrote in an email to Austonia that the agency is required by the Federal Transit Administration to advertise public meetings and "create educational messages," which it does by paying for sponsored content on area news sites. In FY 2020, which ended Oct. 1, Capital Metro anticipates it spent $1.1 million on such messaging; the agency is still tallying its September expenses.
Ben Wear, who covered transportation for the Austin American-Statesman for 15 years, wrote about why Capital Metro and its supporters had "the wind at their backs" before the pandemic hit and why COVID-19 has made their pathway to victory murkier.
- Austin voters ask: How feasible is Project Connect's $7.1B price tag ... ›
- Dramatic downtown Austin drone shows scope of Project Connect's ... ›
- This was the year for Project Connect in Austin. Then came ... ›
- Project Connect transit plan to be decided by Austin voters - austonia ›
- Capital Metro offers free bike rides until election day - austonia ›
- Austin's Capital Metro is adding electric buses - austonia ›
- Early voting results: City of Austin Propositions A & B - austonia ›
- Capital Metro maps out next steps for Project Connect - austonia ›
- Capital Metro awarded $900k federal grant for Project Connect - austonia ›
Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
- Austin faces rocky road in hiking taxes for Project Connect - austonia ›
- City launches $65M in Project Connect anti-displacement plan ... ›
- CapMetro CEO switches to role in D.C. as Project Connect moves ... ›
- Project Connect doubles cost of Orange, Blue lines - austonia ›
- With Project Connect in the works, what place do EVs serve ... ›
- 5 ways Project Connect is moving forward in Austin - austonia ›
- Federal Transit Administration awards $750K for Project Connect ... ›
- Project Connect begins scoping phase, officially hitting the road ... ›
- Austonia answers: How feasible is the $7.1B Project Connect price ... ›
- The pros and cons of Austin's $7.1B transit plan Project Connect ›
Plans for an Amazon warehouse in Round Rock—a $250 million project slated to be a large distribution center—are on hold.
This comes just after the tech giant had its worst financial quarter in seven years.
- Late last year, it announced an expansion at the Domain adding 2,000 more corporate and tech jobs.
- Amazon still owns the site in Round Rock. Plans for it are unclear.
- Early this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is aiming to scrap warehouse space as it faces a slowdown in its e-commerce operations.
Part of that effort involves exploring the possibility of ending or renegotiating leases with outside warehouse owners. Another aspect is a plan to sublease warehouse space.
“It allows us to relieve the financial obligations associated with an existing building that no longer meets our needs,” an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. “Subleasing is something many established corporations do to help manage their real estate portfolio.”
- Amazon bringing 2000 jobs to Domain as part of latest expansion ›
- Amazon plans to build distribution center in San Marcos - austonia ›
- 7 tech companies with big Austin ties make LinkedIn's 50 Top ... ›
- How 6 Austin big tech companies are returning to the office - austonia ›
- The typical compensation for a Big Tech worker in Austin - austonia ›
- 9 Prime Day deals for those living in Austin, TX - austonia ›
- Living on $15/hour in Austin: Here's how it can be done ›