Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Urban Rail: The Next Great Austin Swindle


Kudos to the Austin Chronicle for this long article on the latest utopian scheme from the central planners at Austin City Hall (and the Obama administration!); the scheme calls for building a new rail line from the area around Highland mall, down the east side of UT campus, into downtown.

First things first, the timetable:
[T]hey will likely be on a ballot proposal in November 2014
But nothing's set...yet:
"several more months of discussion before we put anything on the ballot. Any­thing could change between now and then."
But this is a wide ranging plan with obvious Agenda 21 fingerprints:
In the long term, Project Connect, the regional planning initiative under the Cap­it­al Area Metropolitan Planning Organ­iz­ation, envisions a public transit system that connects not only all of Austin, but also other destinations in the Central Texas region, such as San Marcos and San Antonio.
With questionable assumptions:
\In justifying the Highland recommendation, Julitz emphasized that Project Connect is a long-term investment. As the area continues to grow, Julitz expects ridership to grow as well.
That fail to account for the obvious:
the rail route would likely go up San Jacinto, on the eastern side of the university. That's not unanimously supported at UT; in October, UT's Student Government General Assembly endorsed the Lamar/Guadalupe sub-corridor on the west side of campus, nearer to the West Campus student population.
Because, duh, most of the population in the area around UT is in WEST (not east) Campus!

But there's Obama bucks to be had in West Campus:
the UT administration prefers the eastern route, especially since the west side will soon be served by bus rapid transit along Guada­lupe and Lamar....MetroRapid will receive considerable funding from the Federal Transit Administration, specifically dedicated to that route.
 So let's neglect what we've learn from current mass transit ridership:
the undeniable fact that the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor has the strongest current population density as well as the strongest current demand for mass transit, as expressed by bus ridership..[because]..the Lamar sub-corridor contains many of the most walkable neighborhoods outside of Down­town Austin.
Because government knows best:
And they've insisted – echoed by the mayor at CCAG Friday – that surveyed public sentiment is only one factor to be considered in choosing a route, and that the project decision cannot rely simply on "a popularity contest."
And government can't do without those Obama bucks:
Dahmus thinks the city is avoiding the Lamar/Guadalupe sub-corridor largely for what he calls a political reason – specifically, to avoid endangering federal support already dedicated to bus rapid transit. The Lamar/Guadalupe area will soon have MetroRapid, which was approved in 2010 as part of Capital Metro's ServicePlan2020, a planned network of bus routes. MetroRapid cost about $47.6 million total, and the Federal Transit Administration's Very Small Starts program covered about $38.1 million of that, or roughly 80%, with Capital Metro funding the remaining fifth, about $9.5 million.
....
[T]he FTA "would be very unhappy if we reprogrammed those corridors after we gave them this plan that put in the bus rapid transit – and then we decide that we want to do rail there instead." The buses couldn't simply be moved to a different area because of the specific contract with FTA. "It's a very competitive system to get money, so cities that play ball with the federal authorities are probably more likely to get funding for their projects,"
This will probably be on the ballot next fall; stay tuned....

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Some thoughts:

  • The ONLY way rail transportation in Austin could, in theory, make sense is on the Lamar/Guadelupe corridor.  Even there, it probably doesn't.  Any other route will be a boondoggle that fails to solve Austin's transportation challenges.
  • If a local project is worth pursuing, it's worth financing locally.
  • Who's getting rich off the Highland corridor?!?
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If readers can stomach Pravdaesque writing, this pro-rail propaganda at the Austin Post is worth reading.

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