Austin Rail Planning 'Off-Track' Again?

RECEIVED Wed., May 30, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Almost 40 years after the first “urban” passenger rail was proposed for Austin (presented to Austin City Council in 1973!), why is planning for urban passenger rail serving Austin so delayed (and, to be honest, screwed up)? (And Austin is certainly far behind other Texas cities – Houston and Dallas – considered much less progressive.) Two years have passed since there should have been a 2010 referendum ready for voters; and now there is a “rushed” attempt by a group given just six short months – called the Transit Working Group – that is tasked with both helping develop a long-range regional transit plan and “rubber-stamping” (because that is all they have time for), this June, an ill-conceived route for urban rail prepared by local transportation planners. I, and other concerned citizen transit advocates, have been attending every single meeting of the TWG; and the completely layman body of this group has struggled to digest the enormous amount of information being fed them (in weekly ubiquitous PowerPoint presentations) by professional transportation planners, with very little actual opportunity to “evaluate and provide input” (wording from the group’s mission statement) in a meaningful way on either a regional transit plan or what might be put before voters in November. Meanwhile, the required federal public-input process on urban rail is being delayed almost to the point of being ignored – with the city of Austin Transportation Department stating the “draft” (not even the final) of the Environmental Impact Statement will not be published until Fall 2012 (and not March 2012 as previously stated). This provides no time for required public comments (since 45 days are required), much less responding to comments already furnished, before any early November vote – meaning the required federal process for public input on the urban rail route likely can’t be finished before a November referendum!
Andrew Clements
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