Austin mayor proposes $800M mobility bond

Downtown Austin, Texas (Kevin Schwaller/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Everyone in Austin knows that one of the city’s biggest challenges is improving transportation and mobility. Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler proposed an $800 million bond proposal to tackle major thoroughfares through the city.

The bond would fund corridor plans that include South and North Lamar Boulevard, Airport Boulevard, Riverside Drive, Burnet Road, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Guadalupe Street and FM 969. The proposal for “smart corridors” aims to move more people, faster and safer, within the same amount of space. Improvements include adding turn lanes so drivers aren’t stuck waiting for another to turn, installing smart traffic lights that can be timed remotely, creating protected bike paths to increase safety and separate cyclists from traffic and building bus pullouts to allow traffic to flow when buses stop.

Adler says the plans could cut rush hour congestion by as much as 50 percent in some corridors.

“We have already spent $10 [million]-$15 million on developing these corridor plans. It’s a classic example of the planning Austin does that goes and sits on the shelf,” Adler said, noting the plans have already gone through an extensive public vetting process and are ready to go.

The pitch does come at a cost. The median monthly property tax increase for an $800 million proposal is projected at less than $5 a month. Though he says much of the corridor work could be done without raising property taxes, he emphasized tackling bigger projects is more effective.

“People aren’t going to feel that difference the way they would truly feel if we actually did something about the large cost drivers,” Adler said. “By doing these projects we can in a material way begin to bend the curve of affordability in this city, but that means we’re going to have to step up. And I hope that the community is ready to actually do something about affordability.”

Adler says the city’s crises of transportation and affordability are intertwined. By creating “smart corridors” out of state highways, Adler said the city could provide housing density and affordability options along the transit corridors, offering more affordable housing and commuting options, increasing housing supply, and protecting neighborhoods.

Keep in mind, city council has a quick turnaround time, just a matter of weeks to come to an agreement on a mobility bond package. Staff will present options June 1.

In 2014, Austinites voted against a $1 billion bond proposal to build an urban rail. In 2012, voters approved $306 million in bond propositions to fund capital improvement projects—$143 million of which was for transportation and mobility projects including sidewalks on areas of North Lamar Boulevard and Burnet Road.

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