When Austin residents vote this election, they will find Proposition A toward the bottom of their ballots. If approved, the proposition will raise the city property tax rate by around 20% to help fund 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?
Today's question: What does Capital Metro's transit ridership look like currently and how might it change if Project Connect is approved?
Capital Metro provided nearly 21 million rides between January and August of this year, according to the latest available data. More than three quarters of these rides were on the agency's MetroBus. Year-over-year, ridership has declined 24.5%. Prior to the pandemic, however, the agency had reported increased ridership for 17 consecutive months.
Capital Metro projects that Project Connect will lead to a tripling of its ridership. The two light rail lines—both of which will run from North Lamar Boulevard and Hwy. 183 through downtown, with the orange line continuing south to Stassney Lane and the blue line east to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport—were selected because of their increased ridership potential compared to bus rapid transit, according to Capital Metro spokesperson Jenna Maxfield.
This capacity is critical to Project Connect's appeal.
Dr. Chandra Bhat, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin, said Austin needs an expanded transit system because of unabated population growth. As a result, extreme commuting—more than 50 miles each way, such as from Marble Falls to central Austin—has become more common, and there are fewer opportunities to expand roadways because of lack of space.
"In my opinion, there's never going to be a magic bullet," he said. "I'm not saying having this new train system or having Project Connect is going to immediately take care of all traffic congestion."
But Bhat does believe that Project Connect, in conjunction with other policies, will help alleviate congestion and make transit more appealing to Austinites such as Leslie Pearlman.
Pearlman lives in Cherrywood and owns a car but mostly relies on her bike to get around town. If Proposition A is approved, she expects to use transit more often because the light rail lines proposed under Project Connect go where she wants to go.
"I've wanted to support this from the beginning," Pearlman said. "I've lived in multiple cities in the United States and abroad that have public transit, and it just makes such a difference in how I interact with the city but also how people across the spectrum of incomes and where they live and other demographics can access it."
Mobility for All, a recently formed political action committee that supports Proposition A, represents a broad coalition of community advocates and elected officials, including all 10 members of Austin City Council, Mayor Steve Adler, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Austin Tech Alliance, Environment Texas and the Travis County Democratic Party.
The Austin Justice Coalition also supports Project Connect, which it says "can make life better, healthier and more affordable" for those communities that are disproportionately likely to rely on transit, including people of color, low-income households and renters.
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
Beyond increased ridership, its members say the plan will help manage congestion, fight climate change and give essential workers better mobility options.
We simply can’t solve global warming without changing how Americans get around. https://t.co/IMKWKM2POG— Environment Texas (@Environment Texas)1601596966.0
Timothy Bray is a board member for the local urbanist organization AURA, which opposed a previous light rail proposal for being too limited in scope. But the group champions Project Connect. "It's a major piece of the puzzle for solving our transportation problems," he said.
Bray contrasted the plan with the $8 billion effort to widen I-35, adding that Project Connect "does a lot more for (around) the same cost."
Critics of Project Connect dispute these ridership projections, arguing that anyone with the option to drive will choose to do so and pointing to a drop in ridership since the pandemic.
Voices of Austin, a recently formed nonprofit, said in a press release issued on Monday that it "must question if this is the time to make a $7.1 billion initial investment in a transit system with a reduced commuter base."
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 of respondents reported they believe they will work from home at least some of the time after the pandemic is over.
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.
Our Mobility Our Future, a political action committee that opposes the plan, has also advocated for alternative solutions, such as micromobility and the promise of vehicle-to-everything, or V2X, and autonomous vehicle fleets.
Bhat agrees that such technologies will develop over the next couple of decades. But he said cities will have to promote transit options that do not rely on individual vehicles—whether an Uber or a self-driving Tesla—if they are to have any meaningful impact on congestion.
"In the large scheme of things, I don't think that driverless cars should be the basis for solving transportation problems," he said.
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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.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Don't miss out on the game!
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