Urban rail bond proposal unanimously approved

Rendering of the new Metro Rail line at the Convention Center. (via City of Austin)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin City Council unanimously approved a $1 billion bond proposal Thursday to more forward with urban rail in Austin.

Council’s decision on the 2014 Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, or AMSP, will pave the way for the bond to appear on the November ballot.

Council members now have until Aug. 7 to determine what could be included in the bond proposal.

Right now, the $1.4 billion plan calls for the 9.5-mile urban rail route to run from Austin Community College Highland, through the University of Texas, the new Dell Medical School, across the lake and over to Riverside Drive — ending at Grove Boulevard.

The ASMP also identifies projects aimed at addressing congestion along the Interstate 35 corridor, State Highway 71 and several other major roadways.

Several grassroots organizations that were formed initially in support of urban rail plan to show up at meeting Thursday to encourage members to vote against the current plan.

Austinites for Urban Rail Action worry the federal funds that are supposed to cover half of the billion dollar price tag are not there yet.

“They have identified additional funding, but they haven’t secured additional funding,” said Brad Absalom, Urban Rail Action co-chair. “So we are concerned that different existing service could potentially get cut to fund this premium service.”

On the other hand, the Downtown Austin Alliance — which represents downtown property owners — is looking long-term at the potential of what types of housing and business would be developed around the line.

Alliance Executive Director Charlie Betts says he believes this will help take 10,000 cars off the roads, easing the current commute.

“That will encourage more people to have easy access, and the impact on land values of urban rail is much more significant than bus routes because the bus routes are subject to change,” said Betts.

Another big concern by rail advocates is if the rail line isn’t popular with commuters the additional three phases will not be constructed.

Others dislike the route and would prefer it on Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard. More residents say urban rail does not solve the traffic headaches because it does little to resolve the traffic on Interstate 35 and Mopac.

Advocates continue to contend if urban rail is built the long term impact will be felt by commuters with easier access to the city.

Each side spoke with shorter speeches than they expected Thursday. Council voted to limit remarks on issues to a half hour for each side.

“[I’m] outraged by this meeting because they cut out a big chunk of the community that had showed up that wanted to speak on this issue,” said Lyndon Henry with the group Our Rail.

Henry would like have the rail line on Lamar and Guadalupe rather than where it will head now. Other opponents worry about cost.

“If we go in here and we vote this thing in in November, depending on federal funds that have not been committed and they don’t come, who’s going to pick up the tab on this thing,” said Roger Falk with the Travis County Taxpayers Union.2

“We do believe in more options and we do believe it is a viable option for some of our commuters and because of that we support it,” said Matthew Hall with the Brazos Technology District.

Now, the city council move into talking about the cost and a possible bond.

The plan council approved also includes road projects.

“I think [the projects aside from rail] could probably use a little more discussion,” said Austin City Council Member Chris Riley. “We have been very focused on the rail piece, but really an awful lot of this package is going towards improvements on our roads.”

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