Austin voters will soon determine the fate of Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's transit system. Although it has been in development since 2013, the plan is still opaque to some residents, who have questions about what it might mean for their neighborhoods—and their wallets.
This week, Austonia will be answering some questions, ranging from the cost of the plan to the projected ridership. Each day, we'll tackle a new one. So far, we've answered:
- How much will Proposition A raise my taxes if approved?
- How feasible is Project Connect's $7.1 billion price tag?
- How much has Capital Metro spent on advertising Project Connect and who is funding the groups that oppose it?
- How will Project Connect affect transit ridership?
Today's question, our final installment in this week's series, is: How does the pandemic affect Project Connect?
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.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler has emphasized the importance of transit for essential workers, who may rely on it to get to their jobs at grocery stores, schools, hospitals and construction sites.
"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 actually address mobility equity for essential workers," he told Austonia during a phone interview last month.
In March, Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke sent a letter to the Texas Congressional Delegation urging it to support federal coronavirus relief funding as a job creator.
"Capital Metro is uniquely ready for additional investments should there be funds to apply for recovery actions," he wrote, adding that the agency had plans to expand the local transit system via Project Connect. "With Federal support, these projects make ideal public works initiatives that can put thousands of people to work quickly."
The #COVID19 crisis will hit transit agencies hard. We’re asking our Congressional Delegation to consider financial… https://t.co/5QrvPYjpye— Capital Metro (@Capital Metro) 1584564641.0
Bay Scoggin, director of the left-of-center Texas Public Interest Research Group, is also optimistic about Proposition A. In testimony before council and public statements, he has stressed its appeal to students looking for more transit options and Austinites concerned about climate change.
"I think one of the biggest takeaways from the primary runoff election was a historic turnout from the youth vote," he told council members in August, "and we should expect that same turnout come November."
Not everyone sees it this way.
Gerald Daugherty is a Travis County commissioner, long-time transit opponent and major donor to Our Mobility Our Future, a political action committee that opposes Project Connect. He argued that raising people's property taxes during a period of such financial uncertainty is yet another reason to vote against Proposition A.
"People are trying to figure out if they're even going to have a job this time next year," he said. "The pandemic has just murdered businesses."
Ultimately, city council chose to approve a scaled-back version of the Project Connect plan, shaving around $3 billion off an earlier proposal. But after nearly a decade of development, its members chose not to delay it amid the pandemic.
Additionally, the pandemic has led to wide swaths of the local population working from home, which opponents say makes ridership projections uncertain.
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority recently released the results of its first online survey about post-pandemic travel. More than 900 Texans participated, nearly two-thirds of whom reside in Travis County. Sixty-five percent reported they believe they will work from home at least some of the time after the pandemic subsides.
But CTRMA also cites data indicating that congestion relief precipitated by the pandemic is short-lived. According to Texas Department of Transportation data, Austin saw traffic cut in half around March and April. By July, however, it was back to around 80% of its pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the pandemic, voter turnout is expected to break records this election, and Adler is hopeful voters make it down to the proposition portion of their ballots.
"There's probably no perfect time to hold an election," he said.
- Austin City Council will put $7.1 billion Project Connect transit plan ... ›
- CapMetro cuts $3 billion from Project Connect due to COVID ... ›
- This was the year for Project Connect in Austin. Then came ... ›
- Dramatic downtown Austin drone shows scope of Project Connect's ... ›
- Project Connect transit plan to be decided by Austin voters - austonia ›
- Austin leaders urge residents to support Prop A - austonia ›
(Editor's note: this is part two of a two part Austonia series tracking the Dateline NBC investigation of Moriah Wilson's murder. Read part one here.)
After pro gravel biker Moriah "Mo" Wilson is gunned down in South Austin on May 11, police investigators develop a "person of interest," Austin's Kaitlin Armstrong, 34, a real estate agent, yoga teacher, amateur cyclist, and longtime girlfriend of Austin cyclist Colin Strickland.
Originally from Michigan, where a childhood friend described her as "fun loving" and "smart," Armstrong finished college and traveled the world studying yoga, in places like Iceland, Bali, and Mexico. She ended up in Austin where she met Colin Strickland. The two were business partners in a vintage trailer business, along with her own venture flipping houses. "Business partners and life partners," NBC said.
According to NBC's evaluation of a police report, a friend of Wilson's, who remains anonymous, said that despite Strickland's relationship with Kaitlin Armstrong, Mo Wilson and Strickland had been seeing each other since their "fling" in Austin months before. NBC reports this friend told police that before she died, Wilson had received a number of calls from Kaitlin Armstrong warning her to stay away from Armstrong's boyfriend, Colin Strickland.
A second tipster claimed to have been present when Armstrong first learned that Wilson and Strickland had been seeing each other. The tipster said Armstrong became "enraged" and threatened to kill Moriah Wilson.
Police found an outstanding warrant for Armstrong for an unpaid botox bill, and brought her in for questioning. She was largely unresponsive to their inquiries. Then police discovered a typo in the warrant and were forced to release her.
Six days after Wilson's death, a police ballistics analysis pointed toward a 9mm weapon owned by Kaitlin Armstrong. In his police interview, Strickland had told police he had previously purchased two 9mm handguns, one for him and one for Armstrong.
Police obtained a warrant to arrest Kaitlin Armstrong for first degree murder, but when they went to arrest her, she was gone.
Austin police asked the U.S. Marshals to find her. The Marshals believed Armstrong was hiding in Austin, until 14 days after the murder when they discovered video from ABIA showing Armstrong, masked and carrying a yoga mat, about to board a plane 3 days after the murder. From Austin, Armstrong had flown to Houston and on to New York's LaGuardia, where the trail went cold.
The Marshals posted a reward, $5,000, asking the public for help. Help came with a tip that Armstrong had been seen in upstate New York a few days after arriving at LaGuardia. Investigators knew that Kaitlin's sister lived there, and went to investigate, but did not find any trace of Armstrong.
Another tip came that Kaitlin had been seen next at Newark International Airport on May 18. But, as before, there was no trail to follow.
But how could she travel without using her identification documents? And how could she survive without using her credit cards and bank account?
Back in Austin, police found her Jeep at a CarMax dealership, where she had sold it weeks before for $12,200.
Meanwhile, in the small, end-of-the-road surfing town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, Kaitlin Armstrong had quietly arrived in town and was working for a local hostel, Don Jon's, checking in guests and teaching yoga.
She befriended a local man who described Santa Teresa to NBC as "a really good place to hide out....it's the land of the unwanted, and the 'wanted.'"
At night, Armstrong became a regular at the town's one bar. She called herself "Ari," but didn't say much about past.
She dyed her hair dark and cut it shorter. She traveled to the capital, San Jose, where she may have had plastic surgery to change the appearance of her nose. Armstrong was later identified by an employee of the surgical center, but if that was her, she used a different name to register for the procedure.
Armstrong told people in Santa Teresa that she had had a surfing accident and needed treatment.
Summing it all up, Austin American-Statesman reporter Ryan Autullo said she "lacked the discipline, frankly, to not get caught." She did some things to conceal herself, but she also wanted to "have fun and live it up at the beach."
Around this time, working off the yoga mat clue, U.S. investigators were contacting police in "yoga destinations" around the world and circulating Armstrong's description. An officer in Costa Rica made inquiries, and was told about a "new yogi" in Santa Teresa.
43 days after Armstrong disappeared, police walked into Don Jon's and arrested her.
In the aftermath, a customer discovered Armstrong's documents, which he photographed before turning over to police. They included her sister's passport, and Armstrong's own passport, American Express Platinum Card, and her social security card.
Armstrong was extradited to the United States, returned to Austin, indicted for murder, and placed in jail with a $3.5 million dollar bail.
She pleaded not guilty, hiring Austin criminal attorney Rick Cofer to defend her.
Cofer, a former prosecutor, was interviewed by NBC. He explained away every point of Armstrong's disappearance and apparent flight to a skeptical interviewer.
He identifies what he says are some weak points in the prosecution's case. Then he perhaps implies that he knows something prosecutors don't. "Kaitlin Armstrong is not guilty, Cofer said. "Evidence will come out that Kaitlin Armstrong was nowhere near the scene of Miss Wilson's murder."
A trial date was set for October 19, but a Travis County judge said in a ruling that an October trial is "highly unlikely."
Camp Fimfo Waco, a brand new camping resort, is kicking off football and fall camping season in style! With top-notch amenities, premium accommodations, and 10 weekends of fall fun, there’s no better place to have a fall camping getaway, especially if you’re a Baylor football fan!
Fall promises to be a one-of-a-kind camping experience. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, weekends will be packed with fall-themed activities, including special Halloween weekends in October. Campers can enjoy activities like fall crafts, campground trick-or-treating, costume contests, site decorating, outdoor movie nights, and more!
Packages and Ways to Stay
Camp Fimfo Waco
Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
Stay in style and comfort, no matter your camping preference! At Camp Fimfo Waco, there are multiple ways to stay. Red Carpet RV sites come with a concrete pad and patio, full hook-ups, cable hook-up, a charcoal grill, fire ring and fire pit. Back-in or pull-thru options are available, as well as coveted spots tucked along the Bosque River!
Don’t have an RV? Not a problem, Camp Fimfo Waco has cabins too! Book a Riverview Firewheel Cabin if you’re looking for an air-conditioned oasis for the whole family. Complete with a kitchen and private bathroom, this cabin can fit up to 10 people. Elevate your stay by adding on a golf cart or snag a private cabana by the pool for guaranteed shade. With wifi available throughout the park, you can stay connected during your stay!
Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
Right now, you can get the fourth night FREE when you book three nights with the promo code BONUS! Check out the Offers page for full details and more promo codes!