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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Actor, director and screenwriter Justin Theroux isn't the only famous member of his family. His canine companion Kuma made waves online this past weekend supporting Austin Pets Alive!—and Jennifer Aniston is a fan.
Theroux launched Kuma's own Instagram account on Saturday with a link to Austin Pets Alive!'s website in her bio. And the grey pitbull mix is already garnering the kind of attention worthy of her movie star dad: As of Monday night, she has over 55,000 followers.
Chief among them is Jennifer Aniston, who posted a photo of Theroux and his newly online dog on her Instagram story yesterday with fond words for the Austin shelter.
"Love what these two are doing to help people who help pups who help people," the 'Friends' star, and Theroux's ex-wife, wrote. "They helped save 60 pups at Austin Pets Alive! yesterday."
Theroux began volunteering at the shelter while filming 'The Leftovers' in Austin when he fell in love with the shelter's pitbulls, according to Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Austin Pets Alive! president and CEO.
"We are thrilled that he and Kuma are spreading the word about the work APA! is doing and the need to keep Austin no-kill," she said, referring to the shelter's commitment to save animals most at risk for euthenasia.
Theroux adopted his mut in 2018 after Kuma was rescued—dirty and injured—from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey by A Chance to Bloom Dog Rescue, based in Conroe, Texas.
While Kuma is not from APA!, Theroux connected with the Conroe-based non-profit while visiting the Austin shelter, and he has remained "an enthusiastic supporter" ever since, Jefferson said.
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Six days a week, thousands of onlookers tune in to live streams to watch the pros rake it all in at high-stakes poker tournaments. The big-name poker players aren't in Las Vegas or even Oklahoma's finest casinos—instead, they're where Texas Hold 'Em gets its name.
Gambling may be illegal in Texas, but over a hundred poker houses are using a loophole to open up shop across the state, especially in Austin and Dallas.
The classic poker game is finally getting played for real cash around the Lone Star State thanks to an exception in Texas' gambling ban that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
It's a business strategy that's gone (mostly) unchallenged by Texas politicians, especially as the industry begins to heat up.
Austin may now have around 20 poker houses around town, but it wasn't long ago that one stood alone like a small town saloon. The city's premiere poker house, Texas Card House, was founded in 2015 and has since grown to include a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers, a wide range of gameplay and regular visits from big-name poker gurus like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
David Lagana, a content creator who has worked in college sports and Hollywood, was brought into the scene in May as the house's live streams began to blow up. He said the live streaming battleground is only beginning.
"The space is ever-growing," Lagana said. "It's been interesting to try and find a lane that everybody can succeed. It's all about finding something that people want to watch on a nightly basis."
Can Player BLUFF Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen on LIVE Stream?
Watch now - https://t.co/4Wt4s5Z0V7@TheBradOwen @andrewneeme pic.twitter.com/Yg4R0c0sj2
— Texas Card House (@texascardhouse) August 25, 2021
Carolyn Hapgood, who has worked for Texas Card House for three years, has made a name for herself as a live stream producer, dealer and player herself with the company. She's seen Texas Card House grow from a two-room card house to the most well-known poker venue in Austin with another branch in Dallas.
"It was a teeny tiny little house with five tables, and that was the first legal card house in the state," Hapgood said. "And since then it's blown up."
Texas Card House dealer Carolyn Hapgood has been working with Austin's premier poker house since 2018. (Texas Poker House Austin/Facebook)
From $100 pots to buy-ins of $15,000 or more, Texas Card House has it all, especially as in-state players learn more about the game. Hapgood said there isn't really a typical poker player at the house—instead, the poker table forms an "interesting little ecosystem" that includes college students, a 93-year old Vietnam War veteran, online gamblers, old-school players and everyone in between. The diversity at the table has been enhanced even further by COVID as people clamor to return to in-person events.
But Texas Card House no longer holds a "royal flush" in Austin's poker culture. The Lodge, based in Round Rock, is now expanding to over 60 tables, the largest in Texas, while Palms Social Club, owned by Texas Card Houses' original owner Sam Von Kennel, brought service staff and a refined atmosphere to the Austin scene.
Hapgood said the base of poker players is very large and continues to grow, forming a community as players form friendships on and off the table.
"My favorite part of the poker community is how much fun we have," Hapgood said. "You sit at a table with eight of your friends, everyone's kind of just having a good time. There's a lot of players who will, you know, call or text each other after they're done playing, and they end up inviting each other barbecues, and going out to dinner with their families and stuff like that... those are my favorite people to hang out with."
Getting involved in the poker scene is as easy as tuning into a live stream, and Lagana hopes to see more outsiders like himself get inspired by poker in the future.
"It's kind of like life," Lagana said. "Life isn't just one hand to play... you're only in control of sort of what's in your hand (and) you can't play the card that you weren't dealt with. So it's really been a fascinating life lesson for me."
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From four-time Grammy-nominee turned big-screen actor, Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton will debut in the sci-fi short film "Devexity," which is written, directed by and stars Austinites.
The film, brought to life by Austin-based filmmaker Luke Lidell, will premiere on Oct. 7 at the Native Hostel while Burton is in town for Austin City Limits Fest. Then, "Devexity" will head off to film festival screenings, according to a report by The Austin Chronicle.
Following Burton as the film's protagonist, named Jean, "Devexity" takes place across several different settings and surfaces an existential response from the watcher. Burton stars alongside fellow Austinites Ali Pentecost, Dominique Pitts and New Yorker Madison Murrah in the partially black-and-white film.
The film was shot over the course of four days in October 2020, which Lidell said was a challenge of "focus" and "trust" to create. With a variety of scenes and intertwining narratives, the film dives into the topic of virtual reality.
A musician in addition to a filmmaker, Lidell previously directed the film "Telekinetic" in 2018. The script for "Devexity" was written by Lidell with Burton in mind for the lead after meeting him during a music video project in 2017—Lidell said Burton helped him shape the characters along the way.
Now that the door has been opened for work between Burton and Lidell, you're likely to see the pair collaborate again—a Black Pumas documentary is being rumored.
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