Light rail advocates present new bond proposal

Austin light rail proposal, May 26, 2016 (Central Austin CDC Photo)
Austin light rail proposal, May 26, 2016 (Central Austin CDC Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Central Austin Community Development Corporation has put in a request to city council to place a $397.5 million Guadalupe-North Lamar light rail starter line on the November ballot. The 5.3-mile line would be the first phase of a larger system plan. The proposal comes on the heels of Mayor Steve Adler’s roughly $800 million mobility bond proposal.

“Let’s just have this part of the conversation. You know, could we build a light rail station that’s kind of been planned for years. Could we?” Central Austin CDC’s Steven Knapp told KXAN. It’s a question city staff, council and potentially voters will have to answer.

According to Central Austin CDC, the light rail’s north terminal would be located at Crestview Station, at N. Lamar Boulevard and Airport Boulevard, and the south terminal at Republic Square, at Guadalupe Street and Fourth Street. Weekday ridership is estimated at 37,400 people with direct service in council districts 4, 7 and 9.

The non-profit group points to a city-sponsored MobilityATX public engagement process last October, which recommended a specific light rail project in the findings, identifying Guadalupe-North Lamar and East Riverside as the highest priority corridors for light rail.

In November 2014, voters turned down a billion-dollar light rail project, 9.5 miles of urban rail that would have extended from Austin Community College’s Highland campus to Grove Boulvard, off E. Riverside Drive. The bond proposal also contained $400 million for road improvements.

Those against a light rail, are far from convinced the latest efforts points to a congestion solution.

“I don’t view it as proposal at all. I view it as a wild vision dream of a very small number of people who have been rail proponents for many, many, many years,” Jim Skaggs, who was with Citizens Against Rail Taxes in 2014 said.

Mayor Pro Tem Tovo said many people voted down the rail in the November 2014 election because of its location and price tag. A Guadalupe-North Lamar light rail has had interest for years.

“In general, I’m very supportive of seeing us make investments in urban rail,” Tovo said. But council only has a matter of weeks to decide whether a bond election is in the cards.

“I just don’t know. I don’t know that’s realistic. The numbers that have been presented by community members, as I understand, haven’t been vetted on by staff,” Tovo told KXAN.

“The only way to improve mobility is to improve the roads. It’s not trying to force people to get off the roads, onto rail,” Skaggs said.

You can add your voice to the discussions at the next Mobility Committee meeting, June 14.

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