This year has proven to be a critical one for transit investment in Austin. Despite the pandemic, the metro welcomed its latest corporate resident, Tesla; received billions of dollars in state funding to expand I-35; and watched as city voters overwhelmingly approved Project Connect, which will transform the local transit system.
The Austin Chamber hosted a virtual regional mobility program on Monday to discuss the impact of these projects, with a special focus on job creation. Here are five big takeaways from the event:
1. Austin's workforce lured the Tesla Gigafactory.
When Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in July that his electric car company would build its next Gigafactory in Austin, local taxing districts had already promised significant tax breaks to sweeten the deal.
But Rohan Patel, senior global director for public policy and business development, said Austin's most alluring asset was its people.
"One of the major reasons we chose this site is because of the availability of talent among all levels," Patel said during the Chamber event.
Since July, Tesla has begun construction on the Southeast Travis County site of its forthcoming factory, set to open this spring, and posted more than 100 local jobs.
"We're just raring to go," Patel said.
Aside from construction work, Tesla promises to create 5,000 new jobs by the time its factory is fully built. To support those positions, the company is working closely with Del Valle ISD and Austin Community College to build workforce pipelines.
"Even during this really difficult time for the country and the globe, the welcome and the, overwhelming really, reception that we've gotten in Central Texas and Travis County is just fantastic," Patel said.
2. Signs point to the federal government investing in Project Connect.
With decisive victory, next steps are to appoint Project Connect oversight board and secure federal funding.(Capital Metro/Twitter)
Project Connect, a $7.1 billion transit system overhaul, will be paid for primarily by 1) a property tax rate hike for city of Austin residents and 2) as-yet-unsecured federal grants.
In the run-up to the Nov. 3 election, opponents of Project Connect worried that banking on federal funding in the midst of a pandemic and economic downturn was akin to building a house on a sand foundation.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, acknowledged that federal funding largely hinged on the results of the presidential election.
Now, with President-elect Joe Biden poised to take office next month, transit supporters are optimistic that Capital Metro will be able to secure the federal funding its needs to bring light rail to Austin.
"We know public transportation will have a friend in the White House come January," American Public Transportation Association Chairperson Nuria Fernandez said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler feels similarly, adding that he has spent time with members of Biden's transition team.
"I know it's a priority," he said.
3. Mass transit is a top consideration for companies considering a move to Austin.(Capital Metro)
Companies looking to relocate look for two big things in a potential new home: talent in the form of a ready workforce and mass transit options, said Jerry Sweeney, CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, which has partnered with Capital Metro to redevelop the IBM campus in North Austin.
"The economic impact of a mass transit system on value creation is fairly significant," he said.
In addition to its economic development benefits, public transit investment also correlates with increasing real estate values for both commercial and residential properties and job creation, Sweeney added.
With voter approval of Project Connect and state funding committed to the I-35 expansion project, Austin is more appealing to companies looking to relocate than ever.
"We need to stand on three legs: transportation, economic development and talent," said Shaun Cranston, vice president and director of land development services for the Dallas-based engineering firm Halff Associates. "When one of those three legs is weak, the other two cannot stand. I am proud and pleased to say that all three legs are strong and that we have a great future ahead of us."
4. The I-35 expansion projects offers more than congestion relief.
TxDot has proposed three expansion plans as part of its I-35. expansion project. This is one.(TxDOT)
The Texas Department of Transportation touts its $7.5 billion I-35 expansion project, which proposes to expand the highway to up to 20 lanes between Hwy. 290 and Ben White Boulevard, as a salve for traffic congestion.
Critics of the project dispute this claim, arguing that cities cannot build their way out of congestion and pointing to recent expansion of the Katy Freeway in Houston, which increased capacity but also led to induced demand. In other words, more lanes drew more drivers.
Regardless of where people stand on the congestion debate, supporters of the project say it offers other benefits. By burying a portion of I-35—between Airport Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street—underground, it could allow for a reconnected downtown street grid.
A February report from the Urban Land Institute proposed building a surface-level boulevard over the underground portions of the interstate, which would allow for public plazas and other amenities.
"Thank you, TxDOT, for taking the main lanes below ground," Adler said during the Chamber event.
5. The Broadmoor development offers proof of some of these claims.5. The Broadmoor development offers proof of some of these claims.(Brandywine Realty Trust)
Broadmoor, a 66-acre, $3 billion master-planned community underway in North Austin, hints at the transit-oriented development that could come as a result of Project Connect.
Brandywine Realty Trust, a Philadelphia-based developer, is behind the project, which will transform the IBM campus near the Domain from a 1-million-square-foot office park to a 7-million-square-foot mixed-use destination by 2036.
Brandywine partnered with Capital Metro on the project, which is oriented around the forthcoming Broadmoor commuter rail station. When completed in 2022, it will be served by the red line and accessible to some 25,000 employees within a half-mile radius.
"We are big believers in mass transportation," Brandywine CEO Jerry Sweeney said.
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By Eleanor Klibanoff
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional protection for abortion and allowing states to set their own laws regulating the procedure. This represents one of the most significant judicial reversals in a generation and is expected to have far-reaching consequences for all Texans.
Texas will ban all abortions from the moment of fertilization, starting 30 days after the ruling, with narrow exceptions only to save the life of a pregnant patient or prevent “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”
The law that will go into effect in 30 days criminalizes the person who performs the abortion, not the person who undergoes the procedure.
This ruling will radically change the reproductive health care landscape in Texas and the entire nation, where more than half of all states are expected to essentially ban abortion in the coming months.
Most of Texas’ neighboring states are also expected to outlaw abortion as a result of this ruling, with one exception: New Mexico. As the sole outlier in the region, New Mexico is expected to become a haven for Texans seeking abortions. The state currently has no significant restrictions and no plans to limit access to the procedure.
Friday’s ruling represents a victory nearly five decades in the making for Texas’ anti-abortion advocates, who have played an outsized role in the national effort to overturn Roe v. Wade.
It also represents a crushing blow to the state’s abortion providers, who have fought to maintain abortion access in Texas amid a nearly endless parade of restrictions, limitations and political attacks.
Roe v. Wade’s Texas roots
Before it became one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases in the country, Roe v. Wade was just a Texas lawsuit.
More than five decades ago, a woman identified in the legal filings as Jane Roe, later revealed to be Norma McCorvey, wanted an abortion. But under Texas’ laws at the time, it was a crime to perform or “furnish the means for procuring” an abortion.
Two young female lawyers, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, saw an opportunity to use McCorvey’s case to challenge Texas’ abortion law more broadly. They filed a suit against Dallas County prosecutor Henry Wade, who would be the one responsible for bringing charges against anyone who violated the abortion law.
The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun shocked the nation with a ruling that blocked not just Texas’ abortion laws from being enforced, but all state laws that banned abortion early in pregnancy.
Blackmun agreed with Coffee and Weddington’s argument that the right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution extended to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. That right to privacy must be balanced with the state’s interest in the “potentiality of human life,” a balance that shifted in the state’s favor the further along a woman was into her pregnancy.
This ruling did little to settle the abortion debate in the United States, instead kicking off nearly five decades of anti-abortion activism and legal challenges seeking to overturn the decision.
Texas, the birthplace of Roe v. Wade, has led many of those legal challenges, including a landmark 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld Roe v. Wade and the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
But the Supreme Court has become much more conservative in recent years, thanks to three appointments by former President Donald J. Trump.
In late 2021, the court declined to block a Texas law that banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy through a novel enforcement mechanism that empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion.
That law remains in effect and will not be immediately impacted by Friday’s ruling.
In December, the court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson, a challenge to Mississippi’s law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Rather than considering just the law itself, the court agreed to consider the question of whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned — and today’s ruling gave the answer.
Ongoing legal questions
But if Roe v. Wade did little to end the debate about abortion in the United States, Dobbs v. Jackson is not expected to settle the question either.
Health care providers are worrying about how these laws will impact their ability to provide care for high-risk pregnancies or people experiencing miscarriages. Some local district attorneys have said that they won’t prosecute abortion cases in their jurisdictions.
One such challenge is already looming, as state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican from Deer Park, has made it clear he intends to target nonprofit advocacy groups that help pregnant patients pay for abortions.
Under the current law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, these abortion funds have helped hundreds of pregnant people leave the state to get an abortion. They’ve paid for travel, lodging, child care and the procedure itself, and they’re preparing for a surge in demand now that abortion is further restricted.
But Cain, an anti-abortion legislator, has issued cease-and-desist letters to these groups, warning that their work may be criminalized under the state laws that were on the books before 1973.
That argument didn’t carry much weight when Roe v. Wade was in effect. Now, legal experts say this may represent the first of many legal questions that will need to be sorted out by the courts as the state begins to navigate an entirely new reproductive health care landscape.
Arch Manning, the latest prospect in the Manning football family and No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023, has committed to the University of Texas.
Manning is the nephew of Eli and Peyton Manning and the son of Cooper Manning, a former wide receiver for Ole Miss. The Manning football legacy began with Archie Manning, Arch Manning's grandfather and namesake who played for the New Orleans Saints throughout the 1970s.
Committed to the University of Texas. #HookEmpic.twitter.com/jHYbjBaF5K
— Arch Manning (@ArchManning) June 23, 2022
Manning joins head Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian's program after a disappointing 5-7 first season. Manning, who has been the starting quarterback at New Orlean's Newman High School since he was a freshman, was the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class, according to 247sports.
Manning had plenty of SEC suitors, including Georgia, Alabama and LSU, but committed to Texas after a recent visit to Austin.
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