City, Cap Metro Commit to “Historic” Transit Expansion Plan
Plan includes new rail lines and enhancements to the current MetroRail Red Line, MetroRapid, and MetroBus service
On what Mayor Steve Adler dubbed "truly a historic day," the Capital Metro Board of Directors and Austin City Council unanimously adopted the Project Connect System Plan and Locally Preferred Alternatives, setting the stage for the two entities to seek funding from the Federal Transit Administration – and voter approval of local funding – for the $9.8 billion vision for transit expansion. (Adoption of those local funding mechanisms, and setting a date for a transit referendum, is slated for August by Council, September by the Cap Metro board.)
It's historic, in Adler's estimation, in that during nearly four decades of talking about transit, predating the creation of Capital Metro itself, Austin has been at this threshold before – twice, in 2000 and 2014 – only to founder. This time is different, the mayor said, because "we've never had a plan and proposal that has had broad community support, and I think we do now, and that's really exciting ... A truly regional plan, for everyone and in all parts of the community ... that provides access and equal opportunity to everyone, that addresses climate issues, that strengthens the backbone of the economy."
While some backers of rail in 2000 and 2014 might chafe at that assessment, many prominent voices of this 40-year-long saga chimed in via public comment to basically endorse this better-than-ever assessment. Lyndon Henry, former Cap Metro board member and Austin's most venerable transit advocate, said it was "heartening and refreshing to see the results" of a community-driven process that led to a robust commitment to a transit system, anchored by rail, of the size and scale that Austin obviously needs.
That system includes four new rail lines – Orange (north/south along the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor), Blue (from the airport along East Riverside into Downtown), Gold (from Downtown up a Red River/Airport alignment to Highland, originally earmarked for bus rapid transit), and Green (the MetroRail commuter service aimed at the Eastern Crescent), along with enhancements to the current MetroRail Red Line (dialed back from the initial proposal in March) and MetroRapid and MetroBus service.
These investments, particularly in bus transit and the Green Line, were championed by speakers and board members as essential investments in equity and access that the events of the moment have made even more relevant. "We need to look at not one set, but all sets of investment dollars," said Travis County commissioner and Cap Metro board member Jeff Travillion, making a direct link between transit, housing, health, and job growth spending needed in the Eastern Crescent communities he represents.