Austinites will decide the fate of $7.1 billion transit overhaul Project Connect—and two PACs are competing for your vote
Austin voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to increase their tax rate to pay for a $7.1 billion, 15-year overhaul of the city's transit system.
If approved, Project Connect will expand Austin's rapid bus line system, add two new light rail lines—from North to South Austin and to the airport—and lead to the construction of a multi-block underground tunnel downtown.
A New Transit Plan for Austin | Project Connect by Capital Metroyoutu.be
Austin City Council voted unanimously last month to add the measure to the upcoming ballot. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the council scaled down an earlier version that would have cost $10 billion.
The new figure of $7.1 billion would come from two sources. The larger amount would come from a hike in property taxes. Additionally, Capital Metro, the city's transit agency, says it will ask the federal government for a grant of $3.25 billion.
A step forward?
Transit for Austin—a coalition of community organizations and elected officials that includes all 11 members of City Council, has voiced support for the project.
The group argues that a city of Austin's size—and continual growth—is long overdue for a comprehensive transit system.
Building one through Project Connect, its members say, will make the city greener by reducing reliance on personal vehicles, more equitable by allocating $300 million to help prevent displacement and safer by getting people out of cars.
Can Project Connect Promote Equitable Access and Mobility Justice? Only an active, informed, and engaged… https://t.co/UqbeJ83nXq— Austin Justice Coalition (@Austin Justice Coalition) 1600297740.0
Austin Mayor Steve Adler has been a vocal proponent of Project Connect for these reasons—and more.
"I think people want us to do this project because they want something done about traffic, they want something done about the environment; they want something to stop the fatalities and to actually address mobility equity for essential workers," he told Austonia.
In Adler's view, the broad scope of Project Connect is essential to its appeal.
"I don't think people want us to be nibbling around the edges and spending money on things that aren't actually going to be transformative," he said. "When something's big, obviously it's going to take time for it to be completed. But the public will start seeing this being handled immediately."
If voters approve the tax rate increase, Adler said they can expect to see the city purchase land for affordable housing along the proposed light rail lines and make updates to the bus rapid transit system in the short term.
For Austinites who don't plan to use transit now or in the future, Project Connect may still offer a tangible benefit.
"Even if I'm driving on the road and not trying to get on transit, I want everybody else to get off the road and get into transit," Adler said. "But in order for that to happen, people actually have to have choices that are good."
In July, a political action committee called Mobility for All filed paperwork signaling its intent to raise money in support of the tax rate increase, which will appear on the ballot as Proposition A.
While it has not yet filed a campaign finance report, the group lists its top donors on its website, including infrastructure design firm HNTB, Major League Soccer club Austin FC and Silicon Labs chairperson Nav Sooch.
A step back?
But there is also vocal opposition to the project, spearheaded by two groups: the Our Mobility Our Future PAC and advocacy group Voices of Austin.
Both argue that Project Connect is too expensive—the median homeowner will see a $317 increase to her tax bill this year, if it is approved—and that the city is overpromising to voters what it can realistically achieve.
Robert Falk, an analyst with OMOF and volunteer with the Travis County Taxpayers Union, said it is "insensitive and out of touch" for the city to ask voters to approve "the greatest debt and tax increase in Austin's history" given the pandemic and uncertainty of the future.
Sources: Austin Community College, Austin ISD, Central Health, city of Austin and Travis County.
The PAC also argues that Project Connect lacks the necessary engineering and federal funding commitment to ensure it adheres to the proposed budget, which could leave local taxpayers footing the bill.
"We're building our whole house on this sand foundation of this federal money," Falk said.
Some Austinites are invested in preventing Project Connect from being approved.
OMOF has raised nearly $100,000, according to its July 15 campaign finance report, with the majority coming from four donors: real estate investor John Lewis, Mercedes-Benz dealer Bryan Hardeman, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and Aminex Therapeutics chairperson Jim Skaggs.
The group feels it needs to counterbalance the city's slick marketing and "propagandizing" of Project Connect using taxpayer dollars.
"Prop A reads like a sales brochure," Falk said.
Voices of Austin, which formed this summer to represent Austinites who feel their views are unheard at City Hall, similarly believes that the city is not being transparent about the full cost of the plan.
"In these dire economic times we do not need Project Con, especially using illegal and misleading ballot language," Executive Director Peck Young said in a statement.
Falk describes Project Connect as 20th-century technology that will only benefit those who live along the fixed-route system. As an alternative, OMOF supports investing in emerging technologies such as micromobility—like scooters—and the promise of vehicle-to-everything, or V2X technology, and autonomous vehicle fleets.
"The future of transit is distributed, on-demand, doorstep-to-destination convenience," he said.
Unlike a light rail system, which requires riders to come to it, these new technologies meet users where they are.
"Why would we go all in on a system that will be obsolete before it's complete?" Falk asked.
The next step
After more than seven years of development, Project Connect now faces voters, who will ultimately decide whether the plan becomes reality.
Despite the pandemic, turnout is projected to break records, and Adler is hopeful that voters make it down to the proposition portion of their ballots.
"There's probably no perfect time to hold an election," he said.
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This Gemini season, starting today, is appropriately paradoxical, twisting and blending simple concerns with life’s bigger, faster and more fiery quests.
On Sunday, May 29, we’ll experience one of the year’s biggest calls to adventure in the Mars/Jupiter conjunction—a potent duo whose combined force will start to be especially strongly felt when Mars moves into Aries on May 24. Contrastingly, Mercury, the ruler of Gemini, will keep our mental temperament grounded and steady as they move slowly through the sensual, materially-oriented sign of Taurus for most of the month. These contrasting forces might be tricky to weave together—read ahead for tips on how your sign can find the right approach this month!
Gemini: May 21-June 20Gemini: May 21-June 20
Welcome to the season of your Solar Return, Gemini! This month will set the stage for your whole coming year, so it will be great to start it off on the right foot. The most important bit of cosmic context is Mercury moving slowly till the end of the month in the grounded sign of Taurus. This is an encouragement to savor your questions and conversations with the world, without needing to rush to answers and to mull over the elemental, fundamental aspects of your life. It would be great to give yourself perspective, especially by experiencing new environments and by moving through the world in a new manner. Allow yourself to be surprised! You might loosen some of your hardened beliefs, but don’t discount the trustworthiness or substance of the new ideas you may stumble upon.
Cancer: June 21-July 22Cancer: June 21-July 22
For you, Cancer, the paradoxes of Gemini season have to do with inwardness and outwardness. On the one hand, you can expect your inner world to be as active as ever, swirling with meaningful thoughts and experiences needing to be digested. On the other, this month features a strong call to get out of your shell, open up to the world at large, and bravely share yourself—perhaps even in an unprecedented way! In transitioning between these extremes, the Moon can be as good a guide as ever—heading into and out of the New Moon on the 30th, you might focus on articulating and envisioning this burgeoning impulse and nourishing the terrain for its growth. As we ramp up to the full moon on the 14th, you might find small ways to embody, communicate and make real this developing dream.
Leo: July 23-Aug 22Leo: July 23-Aug. 22
This Gemini Season is particularly intense for you, Leo, as it calls forth both a fiery, hungry spirit and a more serious, dedicated energy, aware of life’s hardships and limitations. These impulses herald a summer of growth and maturation, which would be great to get a good jump on. Just don’t let this process make you too heavyhearted or self-involved! Your friends, community, and experience of the broader social world at large can help soften and clarify this strong, fiery self that’s metamorphosing. You might rely upon this bigger, human perspective to help you progress smoothly and gracefully. Although it might require some extra humility, taking yourself less seriously can be a superpower. A lighthearted approach can be extraordinarily efficient and effective. It might be paradoxical, but consider that relying on a bigger, greater power than your own is your path to individual fullness.
Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21
This Gemini season brings a charge for you to expand into more substantive and serious subjects, Virgo. Especially if you feel you’ve been playing small, this will provide an opportunity for you to grow into more meaningful and demanding work in the world. At times, this will feel hectic and harsh—there will be no shortage of fire this month. You, as much as anyone, though, can help find the right place and time for that fire, directing it where there’s a need for more energy and oomph. Lightheartedness can be really helpful in navigating and dancing with this heat—with a bit of humor and perspective, you can respond and adapt quickly and gracefully. By the end of the month, you should be able to feel like your view of and faith in the bigger picture has expanded.
Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23
This Gemini season will provide ample opportunities for you to learn and grow through your relationships, Libra. We’re really looking at the full spectrum of potential experiences here—on the one hand, Mars’ entry into Aries can ignite flammable subjects, and people are generally likely to be on edge, assertive and protective. On the other, Venus’ conjunction with Uranus toward the end of the month can bring unexpected encounters and new forms of relationship into play. Throughout all of this, there’s a theme for the next year of growth through fiery, direct relationships. This is a step beyond just keeping the peace which may be discomforting, but consider that it may take your relationships to incredibly satisfying and enduring places.
Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21
This Gemini season brings opportunities for sharpening both your wits and tools, Scorpio, although this may feel like a trial by fire. Although they may feel particularly urgent and exciting this month, many of these challenges and opportunities will last throughout the summer, so take your time to get your focus clear and settle into a groove. The real challenge and potential this month have to do with navigating subtle, intricate dynamics so that you aren’t flustered and know exactly where to put your effort. In order to develop this discernment, you can definitely rely on trusted allies, who can act as mirrors, triangulation points and simple safe havens amid the storm. This is a strategic necessity, but be sure to give thanks and enjoy the simple goodness of companionship, too!
Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21
The sharp, powerful impulses and stimulation of this Gemini season are pushing you to the development of your free will, Sagittarius—a spirit of playful, proud independence and spontaneity. There are a couple of ways that you might think about this. First, that courage is necessary to truly live out your convictions and ideals, as well as a way to ultimately best serve the world. Truth isn’t always soft or easy. On the other hand, this isn’t too complex and is keyed to cutting through stagnation. There’s a sort of simplicity and instinctive wisdom that you can draw upon and develop into this month, letting things happen. If you need to, you can think of this as an act of trust, or faith in a basic goodness and natural, flowing order of things.
Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19
The motion and activity of this Gemini season can quickly develop your values and taste, Capricorn, as you strip back ordinary and inherited ways of thinking and open your eyes to life’s beauty. This simple and vibrant beauty will stimulate your desire to savor life’s goodness and strive for the highest quality experience possible. Along the way, your fixed, limited ideas about what is possible can fall away, even as the new and extraordinary may require incredible strength and devotion from you. Although these are lofty ideals, they’ll have a lot to do with your tangible, everyday experience of your body and sense of home—this is a primal, almost wild energy being rekindled. Alongside this intense fire comes a certain risk, so make sure to enter into this new adventure step by step, without injuring yourself or anyone else.
Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18
This Gemini season can help you learn how to feel more rooted and alive in life’s simple aspects, Aquarius. Although this can certainly take place in tandem with new teachers, these don’t have to be big gurus—rather, your curiosity, delight, and common sense might be the best guides. In this regard, your quality of perception, thought and the well-being of your inner child can all make great strides. Through the first part of the month, this will likely feel exciting and overwhelming. As we approach our new moon, though, you can get a better sense of where you need to be settling into more focus and definition in your life. This back and forth between a growing sense of clarity and inner authority and a stronger capacity to be firm and to the point will continue to deepen throughout the summer.
Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20
This Gemini season is focused on helping you develop a stronger sense of connection to the world around you, Pisces. Although this can take place by rearranging and bringing more life into your body and environment, an initial spirit of fresh possibility and willingness to release what is stale and outgrown is a necessity. In doing so, you can land upon a greater sense of capability and being resourced for life’s adaptations and evolutions. This will certainly be a month of growth in your material world and relationship with your body, but the serious litmus test is how settled you feel internally—the quality and clarity of your thoughts and inner world. Ideally, though this summer you’ll develop a stronger trust in yourself and an easier interface between your inner riches and outer quality of experience.
Aries: March 21-April 19Aries: March 21-April 19
The Mars/Jupiter conjunction is especially important for you, Aries, as it happens in your home sign. This signifies a spark of expansion that will play out over the coming year. Here, Jupiter is calling you into new ventures and adventures, to level up and act on the big dreams and desires brewing inside of you. Thus, this month is a great time to initiate some bigger change, to take some jump, leap or healthy risk. Although you don’t want to let this moment slip away, please don’t get impulsive or headstrong—make sure you’ve got at least a bit of a plan. Ideally, whatever you’re aiming at will require a good bit of care, and you can expect that much of this opportune, fertile energy will continue and develop throughout the next year.
Taurus: April 20-May 20Taurus: April 20-May 20
The start of the coming month will challenge you to keep up the pace, Taurus, so that it can consolidate into a healthy rhythm. Finding the right stride, you can find yourself breathing more easily, and maybe let yourself loosen your grip or take your hands off the handlebars, trusting your sense of balance and the strength in your legs. This can set the stage for an opportune spell at the end of Gemini Season, as your ruler Venus makes a conjunction with Uranus—you might keep an eye out for spontaneous side adventures, ways to create space for synchronicity, or simple moments where life is calling you into new ways of being. Ideally, these will feel like clear upgrades, but if you need to think of them as experiments or trial runs, that’s totally okay, too.
Austin police have charged Kaitlin Marie Armstrong, a local cyclist, for the murder of Moriah "Mo" Wilson.
Wilson, a rising star in the gravel and mountain bike community, was found dead with gunshot wounds inside an East Austin home on the night of May 11 when she was in town for the weekend Gravel Locos race in Hico, Texas.
Police believe Wilson was having a relationship with a man Armstrong was also in a relationship with. The man, another gravel cyclist, Colin Strickland, has since issued a statement on the murder.
In his statement, he said he had a brief romantic relationship with Wilson in October 2021 before he resumed his relationship with Armstrong, but that he remained friends with Wilson. "There is no way to adequately express the regret and torture I feel about my proximity to this horrible crime. I am sorry, and I simply cannot make sense of this unfathomable tragedy.
NEW: Austin professional cyclist Colin Strickland has just released a statement about the murder of cyclist Moriah Wilson, clarifying his relationship with her and expressing “torture about my proximity to this horrible crime.” pic.twitter.com/KnIna3mWrE
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) May 20, 2022
The family of Wilson also issued a statement to KXAN saying it was clear to those close to her that she was not in a romantic relationship with anyone.
Wilson, a 25-year-old Vermont native living in Colorado, had won a slew of races becoming a fan favorite. She had just become a full-time racer this year.
Anyone with information on this crime can contact Austin police at 512-974-TIPS or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 512-472-8477.
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