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 ›
With a taste of MLS play under their belts, Austin FC is entering the second half of a scoreless inaugural match.
The club has been 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."
The two breaks aside, Austin FC has been holding their own against the match favorites. In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team has been quick and intense, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. ATXFC has also kept about equal possession with LAFC, although their shot attempts haven't been quite as nervewracking as the home team.
LAFC has given goalkeeper Brad Stuver some scares with 11 shot attempts, four of them on goal. By contrast, Austin FC has had five shots on goal.
LA has pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense isn't as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and defensive midfielder Alex Ring has shown the qualities that make him captain as he leads his teammates through their first ever match.
Will Austin FC win against the odds? It's tough to tell, but Austonia will keep you updated!
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.