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Commissioners postpone resolution to support Project Connect

Thursday, January 23, 2014 by Jimmy Maas

There was no resolution this week from Travis County Commissioners about supporting Project Connect, the high-capacity, cross-agency transit plan for the Austin metropolitan area.


The court mainly heard from supporters of Project Connect Tuesday.


“I have been in this community just over three years now,” said Linda Watson, President and CEO of Capital Metro. “When I first got here I noticed there are three different agencies planning transit in this region: Lone Star Rail, the City of Austin with Urban Rail, and Capital Metro with MetroRapid. I got together with the other agencies to make sure that the systems that are planned to work together as a system and we began a very strong partnership and working with CAMPO to develop a regional high capacity transit system plan.”


“We can no longer sit and do nothing or fall into old paradigms of making this about road versus rail versus bike/ped. We need everything,” said Beth Ann Ray, vice president for regional mobility for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “When you have 100 people moving here a day, we have no choice but to look at all of the options on the table, including things we may have never thought of before.


“As everybody knows traffic congestion is a huge problem in the community and the county and particularly downtown,” said Larry Graham, chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance. “It’s a problem that threatens our region’s economic health and our quality of life. We cannot solve this simply by expanding road capacity.”


Though the commissioners weren’t planning to act Tuesday, the discussion afterward tipped their hands as to where the vote might be headed.


“Let me say that I have not seen in all of the years that I’ve been in office a more well orchestrated working together than the agencies that you mentioned, including Capital Metro,” said Commissioner Bruce Todd, whose years include service as Mayor as well as commissioner.


“It’s time to move from ‘let’s keep Austin weird’ to ‘let’s keep Austin moving,’” said Todd.


But others weren’t as convinced.


“It gets to the point where you start looking at so many proposals that you don’t know which one is what,” said Commissioner Ron Davis.


Davis didn’t need to look far to prove his point, as there were four groups and one subcommittee mentioned in the second line of the resolution: the Transit Working Group, a subcommittee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Metro, the City of Austin and Lone Star Rail District.


Project Connect is theoretically the group that will tie it all together.


“There are more ‘whereas’es than I have ever seen in a resolution, but all are important,” said Todd.


“Until I’m able to get the information that can separate this to where I’m comfortable in supporting it, not supporting it, I’m at an impasse,” said Davis. “That’s not good to be at an impasse when you are a decision maker. You need to have something that will tilt you one way or the other. Right now there’s not enough evidence for neither. So it’s an impasse for me. This morning, next week and any other time, until that information is readily made available to me.”


“I have major issues with this,” said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty who has never supported rail and asked for the decision to be postponed to next week.


“We’re tossing around the word high-capacity transit. I’m not sure high-capacity transit is what this system will really provide.


“Resolutions are big,” said Daugherty. “Resolutions are what everybody takes and says this body is agreeing to do this.”


“It’s easy to say we need everything,” said Daugherty. “But we don’t have the money to do everything. And that’s the reason there’s so much resistance from me because I realize how little money there is to apply to things where you get bigger bang for the buck.”


With indecision lingering, Project Connect’s funding avenues get a little narrower.


Biscoe then agreed to push off the resolution decision until February 4 with discussion continuing on the issue.

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