After defeat of TNCs, Austin urban rail discussion returns

Urban rail vision (Courtesy: Project Connect website)
Urban rail vision (Courtesy: Project Connect website)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Uber and Lyft leave the conversation on mobility options in Austin, it could provide urban rail the opportunity to re-enter it. The Urban Transportation Commission voted on Tuesday to ask the Austin City Council to explore and investigate the possibilities of a November ballot item on urban rail.

A bond election for urban rail was defeated in November 2014, but commission member Mario Champion said the vote against the bond was not necessarily a vote against urban rail in Austin.

“One of the reasons it failed is because it combined a road bond and a rail bond together. There were people who did not want both,” Champion said. “Within the rail bond, there were also people who wanted one plan versus another.”

Because there have been studies and plans already conducted into the feasibility and design of rail projects, Champion said the commission is hopeful the process to getting an election item on the November ballot can move quickly.

“We could dust off those plans and learn from the community what was good about them and what was not good about them,” he said.

One mile of rail costs approximately $75 million, a price many voters shunned the last time around, but Champion and the commission think there is still enough energy, data, and planning that would justify the council taking another look at the possibilities of rail in Austin.

“The defeat of Project Connect [in 2014] is not a defeat of rail. It is a defeat of that process.”

In the 2014 election, 57 percent of Austin voters said no to a $1 billion proposal for light rail. Another vote in 2000 on a rail plan stretching from South Austin to Parmer Lane failed by less than 2,000 votes.

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