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AURA Begs to Differ

Rail advocates insist they don’t advocate ‘Guadalupe/Lamar’ Only

By Michael King, 5:00PM, Tue. May. 6

From AURA on Facebook
From AURA on Facebook
photo by Austinites for Urban Rail Action

Newsdesk was righteously Tweeted this morning by members of Austinites for Urban Rail Action, after we posted a summation of reactions to the latest urban rail proposal by the Project Connect Study Team. AURA wants it known they are ‘not now and have never been’ advocates of ‘Lamar/Guadalupe’ only for Austin’s initial urban rail route.

The post in question – “Can Project Connect Connect?” (read it here) – summarized the Project Connect “Locally Preferred Option” recommendations to last Friday’s Central Corridor Advisory Group meeting, followed by reactions from the Alliance for Public Transportation (middling supportive) and the Our Rail PAC (adamantly opposed). At issue was a parenthetical reference to AURA as akin to Our Rail in the position that “the only acceptable northern corridor is Lamar/Guadalupe.”

AURA advocates leapt to Twitter to vociferously reject that summation (nicely representative from @juliemontgomery, AURA’s citizen rep on CCAG: “@AURAatx is most definitely NOT Guadalupe/Lamar only & never has been”). Others pointed to a lengthy November resolution passed by the group that proposed adding the Lamar “sub-corridor” to East Riverside and Highland, to prioritize East Riverside, and also arguing that Highland should only be included for rail under certain conditions, to wit: “Given the speculative nature of Highland's anticipated benefits, it is also our view that the Highland sub-corridor can only be justified as an initial sequence if land-use policy in the sub-corridor is further optimized for rapid, dense development and the sub-corridor meets certain immediate development benchmarks subsequent to development policy optimization. Otherwise, that sub-corridor should not receive a rail investment but instead be prioritized for rapid bus service.”

There are other conditions noted in last year’s AURA resolution, including advancing the Lamar sub-corridor along with the other routes, applying certain analytical standards (the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” criteria) to the whole study, more public meetings (explicitly along the lines of the debates over Water Treatment Plant 4), and otherwise continuing the consideration of Lamar/Guadalupe as a potential initial corridor – most of these steps already having been worked through or rejected as impractical by the Study Team and CCAG.

If those additional steps are not taken, and “In the unfortunate event that policymakers persist in advancing the questionably scored Highland sub-corridor as the initial sequence” (reads the November resolution), “AURA will advocate for land-use policy changes to bolster its chances of success. If policy is not present to ensure success, AURA will advocate for the [Highland] sub-corridor to be served by rapid bus service.”

That’s a long way around a parenthesis, but Newsdesk understands why AURA might not want to be linked too closely to Our Rail, whose opposition to Highland is, oh, less nuanced than that of AURA. We welcome the distinction – even though some might read it as a distinction without a great deal of difference – and urge transit advocates to read the whole AURA resolution here.

Finally, Newsdesk asked Julie Montgomery if she had anything to add to today’s discussion, and she said she wouldn’t characterize the AURA’s requests as “conditions” – rather, she said, the resolution was a “tiered approach … ordering the choices [on the rail line] from most preferable to least preferable.” Most specifically, she pointed to the overall zoning in place on the Highland corridor as currently not conducive to a successful high-capacity transit line. “If the city’s leaders want to put rail there,” she continued, referring to the resolution's proposal on land-use policy, “AURA want[s] to see the base zoning increased, so that [the Highland corridor] could become higher density both in terms of residential and employment densities.”

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