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Campaign Continues for Austin Light Rail
© Light Rail Progress – January 2001
Evidence of widespread community support for light rail – including the support of a majority of City of Austin voters – is fueling a resurgence of the campaign to develop a light rail system in Austin, Texas.
While a majority – 50.6% – of voters within the City of Austin actually voted in favor of Capital Metro's light rail plan on 7 November 2000, the proposal was defeated by an extremely slim margin of about 2000 votes within the service area as a whole. That apparently reflected opposition from some residents in outlying suburban areas, who may in general exhibit less support for mass transit than inner-city residents.
But throughout the service area, support for light rail was particularly strong along the actual proposed routes. in precincts within a half-mile of the starter system routes, 57.3% voted for light rail, and within a half-mile of the entire 52-mile system, 55.9% voted in favor. That seems to indicate a clear mandate for proceeding with light rail, even if initially within the City of Austin or in a somewhat scaled-down form.
Substantial human effort, time, and public money have been expended on evaluating mobility options and refining plans for light rail. More than 25 years and many millions of dollars of planning have identified light rail as the most cost-effective choice for a transit backbone in Austin with sufficient quality to attract acceptable ridership and adequate capacity for the task. Mobility planners and decisionmakers say this investment should not be discarded, thus leaving the Austin area's future mobility in greater jeopardy.
A major step forward occurred on 11 December 2000, when the Capital Metro board voted to continue to proceed with the Preliminary Engineering-Environmental impact Study for the light rail plan. Such a move, with the aim of following through and finishing the study, was encouraged by Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, and several environmental, business and transportation planning officials, as well as "dozens of Austin residents", according to the Austin American-Statesman [9 Dec. 2000] The Federal Transit Administration, which paid 80 percent of the cost of the study, also gave Capital Metro a green light to continue the work.
At that same meeting, the Capital Metro board also voted to approve new options for using approximately $69.5 million through 2003 on transportation projects other than rail. This was applauded by the American-Statesman, which noted editorially that "... Capital Metro's board must show good faith in acknowledging the election defeat by reassigning some of its penny sales-tax revenues." [1 Jan. 2001] As the Statesman reported,
Already the board has said it would return a quarter-cent of the sales tax to the communities in its service area for specific transportation projects, such as sidewalks or street improvements. That amounts to about $33 million available to communities in this fiscal year that ends in September. The board also is re-emphasizing its commitment to provide $91 million to regional transportation funding.
Clearly, a majority of Austinites want light rail – and approximately half of the population in Capital Metro's service area. Their wishes must not be ignored, say backers of the light rail plan for Austin.Rev. 2001/01/22
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