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.
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
As Austin FC took the stage for their first-ever match, they appeared more experienced than their track record. The club held LAFC to a scoreless first half, keeping about equal possession of the ball.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks.
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.