Austin at Large: This train will be on time: But Project Connect’s power structure is flexing a little to help everyone get on – news


I bet at least 90% of you haven’t given Project Connect much thought since you voted for a few billion dollars a year ago. When we tried to frame last Fall’s Big Proposal A debate, voting on the approval (the property tax rate) for the major overhaul of the Austin transit system was tantamount to creating a new local government agency comparable to Central Health or Austin Community College. Both companies collect similar tax revenues as Project Connect to do their specific jobs that weren’t done very well by Austin voters prior to their inception. Both managed to convince voters to lower the tax rates on their groundbreaking next-level projects like UT’s Dell Medical School (funded by Central Health to pay for the services their new doctors provide to lower-income Austinites) or Reinvention by ACC greatly increasing the Highland Mall, which we put in the spotlight over the summer.

However, for this analogy to last perfectly, we would have to consider Capital Metro (also created by the voters) as Phase I and Project Connect, which took place 35 years after the transportation authority was founded, as the groundbreaking next step. And we are expressly not doing that here, because the transit infrastructure made possible by the victory of Prop A (2020) is not being supplied by Capital Metro, but by its new joint venture with the city, the Austin Transit Partnership. This entity was created in paper form prior to the vote last fall, but this Friday October 29th the Joint Powers Agreement between the city and Cap Metro, which empowers and defines the ATP for the future, will be passed, along with a few others Action points needed to really get this train rolling.

Who is behind the throttle

It’s now some kind of water under the bridge (perhaps under a new bridge that will run the light rail’s proposed Blue Line across Lady Bird Lake east of Congress), but Cap Metro and City Hall have not always been so keen to work so closely together.

If people who have moved to Austin since 2000, and many of you are, are asking why it took 20 years to follow up on this year’s narrowly failed rail referendum on a plan that could happen, this is part of the answer. Various political, philosophical, and personality differences play a role in how it came about, but it was not until the starry track plan of 2014 (which was largely shaped by decisions outside of the Capital Metro) went up in flames in the chaos of the city of the first 10: 1 election the city that the painful and protracted railroad debate has given way to a focus on the basics. We would have to spend whatever it takes to create a transport system that would meaningfully change travel behavior and future land use; Without the city’s financial partnership, this might not be possible. But the city also had to stay on track and let Cap Metro lead on technical issues.

Early on, before the Project Connect plan was fully developed, many community leaders had already grappled with the need for a new transportation agency for Austin’s next-level system. That understanding was initially tarnished by latent competition over who that super-authority would be and some fantasies about the amount of work it could do. When City Hall and Cap Metro went to the polls, today’s ATP’s tasks were tighter: limited scope, focused on delivering projects on time and on budget, and did not replace anything that Cap Metro and Austin’s mobility departments are already doing. It’s just a work thing, not a lifelong commitment.

Did you find your seat?

That’s great and welcome, and everything except that Cap Metro and City Hall took on another political mandate in the run-up to the Prop-A vote that involves representation and justice, as well as community empowerment. The $ 300 million Project Connect “anti-evictions” fund is a sizeable investment for a project of its size, and rightly acclaimed, but tangential to the actual expansion of a rail and bus system and its own The execution is being handled entirely by the city, although Cap Metro helped start the discussion on “fair traffic-oriented development” districts or ETODs around stations. There is a large community advisory body that participates in this process; the inter-local agreement between the city and Cap Metro to create this JPA also required them to create this CAC, and this element of Project Connect was important in securing support for Prop A from Austin’s now very influential social justice advocacy group, the largely from the the railroad debate in the decades before.

After the election was won and most of the stakeholders turned back to their earlier business, a core group of CAC members watched carefully, and not without concern, as the PPV was drawn up to ensure that the public, and especially the marginalized and the transit addicts, always had still an important voice and will not be included in the anti-eviction corral while the big building money is being spent in ways that will also have a big impact on fair outcomes for Austinites. The work of these lawyers is reflected in numerous changes to the documents submitted for review on Friday, but they also know that this work is only just beginning. We have them behind us.

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