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Austin City Council, CapMetro vote to go with scaled-back $7B Project Connect proposal
(Capital Metro)

CapMetro and the Austin City Council approved a scaled-down version of Project Connect on Monday, reducing the funding ask to voters by nearly one-third.


City staff will now bring forward an official tax rate proposal for the council to vote on by Aug. 7. The proposal will include an 8.75-cent property tax increase.

The city and CapMetro also approved creating a shared governing board for the project, with officials from both entities overseeing the massive transit upgrade.

"This is an exciting day to be taking a step forward," Mayor Steve Adler said. "This is both a scary time filled with uncertainties, and a time of hope as we are on the verge of real transformative change … We need to move forward to be the Austin of our aspirations, and our dreams."

The influence of the pandemic

The reduced ask came as a sharp turnaround for Project Connect—the city gave the nod to the full $10 billion plan as recently as late June. The plan approved today will be just over $7 billion, with 45% coming from the federal government and most of the rest from the planned November vote.

However, the property tax increase approved by CapMetro and the council was actually slightly higher than the reduced proposal—an 8.5-cent property tax increase—brought forward last week. The 0.25-cent increase will allow Project Connect to triple the amount of funding to help with housing displacement to $300 million.

For and against

Of the 84 people who signed up to comment on Project Connect, 68 registered in favor of the plan, with five registering against it.

The speakers who opposed the proposal called parts of Project Connect, such as the construction of an underground rail tunnel through downtown, "sketchy," poorly planned and a "fairy tale" that could easily go over budget.

"We're in the middle of a pandemic, and we don't have funds to do this sort of thing," said Caroline Reynolds, who lives near downtown and said she is drawing on her experience as an engineer.

Other residents called on the council and CapMetro to delay putting the issue on the ballot to 2022 and impressed upon the officials the possibility of the it failing during a year with such major financial crises going on.

Many spoke in support of the project, advocating for the need to work on improving public transit in the city sooner rather than later.

"I urge you all to go big on this project and support it moving forward," said Bay Scoggin, the director at Texas Public Interest Research Group.

Danielle Skidmore, a civil engineer and former candidate for City Council District 9, in Central Austin, also spoke in support of Project Connect.

"We will look back at 2020, and recognize it is the right time to begin this investment," Skidmore said. "Project Connect will define Austin in the 21st century."

Two more votes are required before the proposal can be put on the November ballot, the second of which will happen during the Aug. 12-14 City Council budget meetings.

This article was updated after the vote.

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