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(Capital Metro)

Austin City Council and the Capital Metro board unanimously approved a $9.8 billion, 30-year transit plan—Project Connect—that will add three light rail lines, new bus lines and park-and-rides to the Austin region.


One board member, Williamson County representative Eric Stratton, voted "heck yeah" during a virtual meeting earlier today.

With their greenlight, the plan is likely to go before voters in November. If passed, more than half of the project budget—$5.4 billion—would come from local taxpayers in the form of an increased city property tax rate. Federal grants would cover the rest.

Project Connect is the product of a 20-year discussion about expanding public transit in Austin. Previous efforts, including a 2014 transit bond that included light rail, have failed at the ballot. This plan appears to have more widespread community support.

The Sherry Matthews Group, a local marketing company, surveyed residents last month and found that 95% of respondents had a positive perception of Project Connect after learning more about the plan. Upon learning that property taxes would be a source of funding, 71% of respondents still supported the plan, which a representative for the group said was a surprising finding.

Although this plan has built up significant community and political goodwill, the coronavirus pandemic—and the economic recession it has caused—poses a new challenge. But supporters emphasized the plan's value to residents as an economic stimulus, mobility solution and response to climate change.

"This massive public works project will provide jobs and help rebuild Austin's economy when we finally emerge from this pandemic nightmare," transportation planning consultant and Austin resident Lyndon Henry said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Project Connect also garnered support because of its promise of equity, including expanding service to East Austin and other underserved areas of the metro.

"We have to make equity a priority," Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion said. "We have to make sure those places that have not had development—have not had a transportation spine—we have to make sure that they are connected."

Jane Bradbury, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said it was important for the plan to be "actively anti-racist rather than passively progressive," a comment that gained steam in further discussion among board members and council.

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who has been part of leading the charge for police reform in the wake of recent protests, said the plan is critical for this reason.

"For the past 70 or so years, Austin has put all of its eggs in one basket," she said. "It's planned its famous growth around cars."

This effect of this is not only sprawl, pollution and traffic fatalities, she continued, but "an effective mandate that if you want to fully participate in our economy you have to have a driver's license, you have to be able to afford a car."

Project Connect, however, stands to improve the quality of life of those who depend on its services. "That means dignity for low-income residents who are disproportionately black and brown, seniors, young people, our differently abled neighbors and anyone else who doesn't drive," Harper-Madison said.

Not everyone supports the project, however. Yesterday, a group called Our Mobility, Our Future debuted a campaign in opposition to the plan, which its members say is too expensive and not modern enough.

Capital Metro board members and City Council continue to discuss how the project will be funded and governed.

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