Austin’s public transportation system -- Capital Metro -- is edging closer toward a possible citywide referendum this fall on a transit-expansion plan intended to ease congestion and to help Austin contend with an expected doubling of its population over the next 25 years.
Though Central Texas traffic has lightened significantly since the coronavirus forced leaders to issue stay-at-home orders, transportation planners say traffic volume in the nation’s 11th largest city will return to normal levels when people go back to office settings.
The pandemic, however, hasn’t stalled efforts by Capital Metro to gather public input about their transit plan, which is known as Project Connect and involves additional rail and bus lines, along with a downtown subway-like tunnel.
On May 31, the transit agency wraps up weeks of virtual open houses and online public meetings that have been intended to gather feedback about Project Connect. Next steps will include a June 10 vote on the plan by the CapMetro Board of Directors, and then likely various Austin City Council reviews and actions, leading toward an expected Nov. 3, 2020 public referendum.
Estimates from March say the plan could cost as much as $9.6 billion over 30 years. Federal grants could pay for 40 percent of the funding, or around $4 billion, leaving another $5.6 billion to be funded locally.
“We’ve engaged about 40,000 people, but there’s a lot more out there, some 2 million people in the metropolitan area,” said Jackie Nirenberg, community engagement officer for Capital Metro, during an AARP Texas Facebook Live broadcast. “We’re doing our best to get word out and get the feedback virtually.”
Though many of the listening sessions have concluded, Nirenberg said information is still available at www.ProjectConnect.com and questions about the plan can go to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 512.474.1200.
Jessica Lemann, who helps lead AARP’s outreach work in Austin, said AARP Texas is not seeking public support or opposition to the plan. Rather, it’s encouraging people to learn about the plan and to engage with community leaders about it.“Share your ideas. Share your feedback,” Lemann said during the Facebook Live broadcast. “If you have concerns, these are things that they (city officials) want to know. And at AARP, we want to make sure that you’re using your voice.”