Friday, October 20, 2000 by

Capital Metro finds Light Rail

Hard to sell in East Austin

Council Member Danny Thomas remains neutral on referendum

Winning East Austin over to light rail goes a lot deeper than selling a rail line.

The message from the audience at City Council Member Danny Thomas’ town hall meeting at the Givens Recreation Center last night was clear: A quick swing through East Austin can’t resolve the neighborhoods’ deep-rooted mistrust of Capital Metro. A theme of disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction with Capital Metro permeated last night’s two-hour forum on light rail. Even Thomas acknowledged it was Capital Metro—not light rail—that was on trial.

“What the citizens are saying here tonight is, ‘How can we trust you on light rail when you haven’t done what you were supposed to do with other types of transportation?’” said Thomas, citing the transit agency’s long years of neglect of East Austin.

Thomas remains neutral on the light rail referendum. He promises a position on the issue, possibly by next week. The audience at his town hall meeting, however, was heavily swayed by critics like Gerald Daugherty of ROAD, who focused on the themes of cost overruns, limited traffic relief and neighborhood damage during a pro-con panel discussion. Daugherty dismissed claims that the rail line would bring new jobs and new development to East Austin.

“This is not a development issue,” Daugherty said. “This issue is about mobility and it’s about transportation. Don’t get sucked into thinking that this will get us around the community.”

Susana Almanza of PODER accused Capital Metro of dangling the carrot of economic development in front of East Austin to pass its own agenda. It was the new airport, not East Austin, that convinced Capital Metro to extend its line to the east, she said. Almanza said a trip to Portland three years ago had taught her the disadvantages of light rail lines. “It’s just a bus that costs a little more and doesn’t even go where the bus can go,” Almanza said.

Voters in the Capital Metro service area will be asked to consider a proposed rail line that will ultimately stretch 52 miles and cost almost $2 billion. The first 20-mile starter line would extend on a north-south axis from Howard Lane to Ben White Boulevard. A two-mile line into East Austin would run out the East 4th and East 5th Street corridor, then up to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Capital Metro promises the initial starter line will be operational by 2007 or 2008, with full projected completion by 2025. The ballot states that the rail line would require no additional taxes and will be paid for with local and federal funds.

The side of the panel intending to sell the audience on light rail, which included Capital Metro Board Chair Lee Walker and prominent pastor Joseph Parker, stressed the new businesses and jobs that rail could bring. Parker said light rail could bring access to East Austin and that access brings economic development to an area. No other project would have such a significant economic impact on the African-American community in East Austin, Parker said. East Austin is a stronghold for Capital Metro bus service, but many audience members talked about problems with infrequent or unreliable bus service. They also criticized the lack of African-American representation in the ranks and on the governing board of Capital Metro. In response, Capital Metro General Manager Karen Rae pointed out that 25 out of 300 supervisory positions at Capital Metro are filled by African-Americans. Slightly more than a third of the work force is African-American.

Asked why Capital Metro had yet to appoint an African-American board member, Rae said diversity was a key underpinning to an effective Capital Metro board. Rae added that she did not consider it appropriate in her role as general manager to tell members whom to appoint.

After the meeting, Rae said Capital Metro offers some of its most extensive bus service through East Austin. She acknowledged occasional problems with bus service there, but maintained that those congestion problems are no different in West and North Austin.

Both former City Council Member Willie Lewis and council candidate Nelson Linder stood in the back of the town hall meeting. Linder said he personally supported light rail, but that he expected East Austin to vote down the rail referendum in November. East Austin neighborhoods feel disenfranchised on the rail issue because they were brought in at the end, not the beginning, of the planning process, Linder said. He added that the presence of paid lobbyists to push the issue raised skepticism among many in the African-American community.

Most importantly, Capital Metro had failed to generate a widespread grass-roots campaign among the African-American churches in East Austin, Linder said. Such support from the pulpit is critical to passing most ballot issues in the East Austin community.

Rae also answered other concerns of East Austinites at the rail forum. She stressed the proposed rail line will be done with existing right-of-way and would require no land grabs in East Austin. She said the agency was looking to North Austin, around Howard Lane, for its maintenance facility. She assured everyone that the rail system would require an extensive feeder service and that bus routes would be expanded and linked with rail stations, rather than cut. And she estimated that light rail trains would run through East Austin every 10 minutes during peak hours.

Planning Commission rejects

Connectivity for Brodie area

Neighbors arguments weigh more heavily than theory

Last week, the Planning Commission solemnly pledged to support new guidelines for subdivision plats, including increased connectivity between neighborhoods. This week, that intention was put to the test—and failed.

The proposed Barker Ranch at Shady Hollow and the existing Estates of Shady Hollow will sit side-by-side off Brodie Lane. Barker Ranch at Shady Hollow, however, has a problem. According to city calculations, the subdivision has a block length of 5,100 feet, more than quadruple the maximum 1,200 feet currently mandated by the city’s Land Development Code. The street is one long loop around the 95-acre property, upon which 172 homes will be built.

Since the block length must be cut, city staff’s first recommendation was to cut a street through the southwest side of the property on Barker Hollow Pass over to Edward’s Hollow Run Road. This was met with universal opposition in the Estates of Shady Hollow. Homeowners filled the room on Tuesday night, waiting hours to voice their protest of the proposed road. Such a decision, the homeowners told the commissioners, would create further traffic problems on Edward’s Hollow Run Road, which has no sidewalks and is often traveled by children walking to school in the morning.

Homeowners in the Estates of Shady Hollow told Planning Commissioners that they don’t want the two subdivisions connected. Edward’s Hollow Run Road, with its sharp 90-degree turn, has already caused more than its share of accidents. Problems caused by the poorly designed street have been so bad Travis County erected a barrier at one end to discourage cut-through traffic to Brodie Lane. Homeowners were adamant that Barker Ranch residents find another exit from the subdivision. Two other exits already exist.

The irony of such a request was not lost on the Planning Commissioners. Only a week ago, the goal of connecting subdivisions, whenever possible, was included in a draft rewrite of a subdivision ordinance. The numerous cul-de-sacs of Barker Ranch—which realtors see as a blessing and traffic engineers as an obstacle—would be discouraged under the new ordinance.

“We’ve talked about the goals of connectivity, but what I think we’re dealing with here is a safety issue,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath told his colleagues. “What had been a connection between Edward’s Hollow and Barker Road in the past has resulted in injuries and fatalities. Folks are taking this road at a very, very fast pace as a cut-off from Brodie.”

Heimsath suggested that they make an exception to the block length rule. A majority of the commission agreed, granting the applicant’s request for a waiver of the block length requirement. Commissioners Robin Cravey and Ray Vrudhula voted “no.” In a motion by Commissioner Silver Garza, the commission agreed to replace automobile access with pedestrian access ease on Edward’s Hollow Run at Barker Hollow Pass.

City staff did offer one more alternative—sending Cascade Caverns Trail to the north out of the subdivision to Brodie Lane. The developer rejected the idea, saying it would cost too much and provide too little relief for traffic leaving the subdivision. Lennar Homes of Texas Land and Construction will develop Barker Ranch at Shady Hollow.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

For the springs . . . Mayor Kirk Watson has agreed to be hoisted in a bucket truck to hang banners advertising Austin’s Barton Springs as “A Spring for All Seasons.” Watson and others will be launching a major public awareness campaign about the springs Saturday at 10 a.m. At the same time, the U.S. Postal Service will be offering a special cancellation of free postcards the city will be distributing to advertise the beauty of the springs . . . Gathering at the Mansion. . . Members of the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus, the Human Rights Campaign, The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and their friends will meet at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, probably at Wooldridge Park to march to the Governor’s Mansion to confront Gov. George W. Bush on his refusal to support inclusion of sexual orientation in state and national hate crimes legislation . . . . No East-West highway. . . Neighborhood activist Clare Barry is gathering support from members of the Allandale and Brentwood Neighborhoods to take Koenig Lane out of the state highway system and put it into the city system. Barry said the neighborhoods fear that the state will turn the street into an east-west freeway. She said the neighborhoods have a plan to make Koenig a safer more attractive street, with a median that includes shade trees. There is federal funding for the improvements between Sunshine and Airport Blvd., Barry said. The City Council would have to push for more federal funding to do the rest . . . Big support . . . Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is hosting a reception for local legislative candidate Jill Warren from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday. For more information, call John Pitts at 478-1617.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

‹ Return to Today's Headlines

  Read latest Whispers ›

Do you like this story?

There are so many important stories we don't get to write. As a nonprofit journalism source, every contributed dollar helps us provide you more coverage. Do your part by joining our subscribers in supporting our reporters' work.

Back to Top