Austin voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to back Proposition A, which would increase the city's property tax rate to fund and maintain a $7.1 billion, 15-year overhaul of the city's transit system.
If approved, Project Connect will expand Austin's rapid bus system and add two new light rail lines, which will be served by a multi-block underground downtown tunnel.
Here is a closer look at the light rail component of the plan:
Project Connect proposes two new light rail lines: the orange line, which will run approximately 21 miles from the North Lamar Transit Center at North Lamar Boulevard and Hwy. 183 to Stassney Lane; and the blue line, which will run approximately 15 miles from the North Lamar Transit Center through downtown and east to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The orange line is one of two light rail lines proposed in the Project Connect transit plan.(Capital Metro)
Both lines will run along the same route from the North Lamar Transit Center to Republic Square, where they will diverge. The orange line will head south, while the blue line will head east to the Downtown Station before crossing Lady Bird Lake on its way to the airport.
The blue line is the second light rail route. Austin voters will decide whether to approve Proposition A, a tax rate increase to fund Project Connect, this Nov. 3. (Capital Metro)
There is also a plan for an extension of the orange line, pending federal funding commitments, that would lengthen it north to Tech Ridge and south to Slaughter Lane. The extended portions will be serviced by the MetroRapid bus system unless voters approve the plan and federal funding is secured.
A third light rail line, called the Gold Line, was initially proposed but eventually switched to the MetroRapid bus service because of funding concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will run from Austin Community College's Highland campus to downtown.
If voters green light Project Connect, both light rail lines are expected to begin construction in 2024, which is expected to take around five years. The total cost for the two lines is estimated to be $3.8 billion, with an additional $2.5 billion earmarked for the downtown tunnel. As a result, the line rail component is by far Project Connect's largest expense—but it allows for a much higher ridership ceiling than a bus-only system would.
Project Connect massive underground rail tunnel www.youtube.com
Multiple studies determined that bus rapid transit along the orange and blue lines would reach capacity during peak periods by 2040, a spokesperson for the city's transit agency, Capital Metro, said. After a two-year period of technical analysis and community engagement, a light rail was selected as "the locally preferred alternative" because of its increased ridership potential.
Capital Metro, which was founded in 1985, provided nearly 20 million rides between January and July of this year, according to the latest available data. This represents a 21.6% decline in ridership year-over-year, but until the pandemic first arrived in March, the agency had reported increased ridership for 17 consecutive months.
Despite the cost, Capital Metro told council members that community members overwhelmingly support the light rail component of Project Connect based on feedback collected during a three-week virtual open house in May. Of the 3,574 participants, 92% agreed with the orange line plan and 90% agreed with the blue line plan. Overall, 90% of participants agreed with the recommended system plan.
Capital Metro declined an interview for this story, citing election law. But in an interview with local safety advocacy group Farm & City last month, CEO Randy Clarke touted the plan's ability to ease traffic congestion, inequity and climate change.
We're proud to join with @texpirg @CleanWaterTx @PublicCitizenTX and many other environmental leaders in support of… https://t.co/ZaBw9gVOp5— Environment Texas (@Environment Texas)1600956629.0
"Generally speaking, unless you're completely anti-transit or … don't want to spend any money, most everyone is really positive about this plan," he said.
Clarke also emphasized that infrastructure spending is a long game.
"Project Connect is not about next year," he said. "Project Connect is five, 10, 15, 30 and 100 years. When we're all gone, what (the city will) look like will be massively determined by this November."
An earlier light rail proposal was rejected by city voters in 2014, including some transit advocates such as Urban Rail Action, who said it was limited in scope and included too much funding for highway expansion projects.
Timothy Bray, an AURA board member, said previous efforts didn't go where people actually live, but Project Connect "gets rail right" and will help make Austin a "more sustainable and equitable city."
The investment corresponds with the impact, Bray argued, and does a lot more toward making Austin a modern city than an $8 billion plan to widen I-35, which is also underway.
Project Connect retains vocal opponents, however.
Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty is one of the top donors to Our Mobility Our Future, a political action committee that is against Project Connect, which he said is too expensive, outdated and limited in scope.
"The overwhelming majority of people do not take transit, nor will they ever take transit," he said.
Daugherty added that the cost of the plan will be carried by everyone who lives in the city—regardless of whether they're served by the new lines being added, own property or are facing financial hardships because of the pandemic.
"If you're a renter, get ready, because whoever owns your apartment complex, they're going to pass (the tax increase) along to you," he said.
As an alternative, OMOF advocates that the solution to traffic congestion is micromobility, like electric scooters, and the promise of autonomous vehicles and vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, technology, an argument that pro-transit advocates have characterized as specious.
"Bottom line on this, it is ridiculous for the city of Austin and Capital Metro to promote such large spending on something that is not cutting-edge technology," Daugherty said. "Light rail is not cutting-edge technology."
Voices of Austin, another relatively new group, has also come out against Project Connect, which its staff says is slick marketing with little actual planning behind it.
Is #ProjectConnect good for #ATX? Make sure you’re registered to vote. #VoteATX https://t.co/gjrrrxP5nB https://t.co/49GSt2DcnM— Voices of Austin (@Voices of Austin)1600452906.0
Ultimately, Austin voters will determine whether the light rail has a future in Austin when they vote on the Project Connect plan as Proposition A this November.
You can learn more about the local mobility propositions, including the ballot language, on the upcoming ballot here.This story has been updated to clarify the orange line route.
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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.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
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.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
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. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
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.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."
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.
~7 p.m: Austin FC loses to LAFC
A sad outcome for many, Austin FC was defeated by their competitor. Check out Claire's recap for a full rundown of what this game looked like: https://austonia.com/halftime-austin-fc-debut.
Until next time, Austin!
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.