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Group files to campaign for Guadalupe-North Lamar rail corridor

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 by Michael Kanin

A group calling itself Our Rail filed papers Monday with City Clerk Janette Goodall that will allow its members to campaign for ballot measures that would establish the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor as part of the initial design of the city’s Urban Rail project. According to the documents, the group intends to fight for a charter amendment that would “designate the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor…(as) top priority for a light rail transit alignment.”


The group’s filing also says it will oppose the ballot measure the city is currently planning which has been named Project Connect.


But a charter amendment seems unlikely, given the fact that Election Day 2014 falls two days shy of the two-year limit imposed on further City of Austin charter changes thanks to the successful 2012 passage of the new 10-1 Council District system. For his part, Our Rail Treasurer Scott Morris told the Austin Monitor that the group is still vetting its options with legal counsel. Morris added that Our Rail would be involved in some fashion in what’s shaping up to be something of a fight over urban rail routing.


Council members signed off on an initial set of urban rail corridors that would route through the Highland region, the city’s downtown core and then east along East Riverside Drive. Their decision echoed a 14-1 vote from the Central Corridor Advisory Group that backed that path.


However, advocates for an alternate scenario that would run the northern portion of the route down Lamar Boulevard and Guadalupe Street through downtown insist that the Council and advisory group votes were ill-informed, and that they would be detrimental to the future of rail in the city. (See Austin Monitor, Dec. 12, 2013.)


Morris said that his group feels that the Highland route does not represent “an appropriate investment” for the first phase of urban rail. He added that his group is “trying to give voters a choice” in the matter.


As for the Charter amendment referenced in Our Rail’s paperwork, Morris said that the group’s initial idea is to pass something that would create a new chapter for mass transit planning in the city’s Charter. He also noted that, as a citizen group, Our Rail “does not have the capacity to put a bond authorization on the ballot.”


Morris characterized the filing as “very preliminary,” and said that his group had submitted their papers “to get the ball rolling.”


According to Morris, he, Roger Baker, Andrew Clements, Dave Dobbs, and former Capital Metro Board Member Lyndon Henry are all part of Our Rail’s efforts. He added that the group was looking forward to the Jan. 28 Capital Metro board meeting, where they hope to “disabuse two or three” sitting Capital Metro board members of the notion that the Highland route can work as one of the first.


Initial routing is important to advocates on all sides of the debate. They see the early days of Urban Rail as key to convincing the broader population that the project is a good one.


For his part Capital Metro Board Chair and Austin City Council member Mike Martinez was not surprised. “Rail in and of itself is pretty divisive,” he told the Monitor. “I’m not surprised that we have transit advocates that believe one alignment is better than another.”


Later, he noted that he couldn’t see the Capital Metro board voting against Council and the advisory group. “Even if the Capital Metro board were to not agree, that would be devastating because that would ultimately kill the project,” Martinez said.


Martinez called for unity from transit advocates in the run up to the potential November 2014 election. “You would hope that everyone would get behind the final decision,” he added.


A 2000 rail bond election was marred by splits over routing. It failed.


“I want rail to be successful,” Martinez continued. “I think there is tremendous growth opportunity in the Highland alignment.”


In that regard, Martinez noted the shifting of the center of the University of Texas campus, the coming medical school, and Austin Community College’s expansion efforts at Highland Mall. He then added that the Council and advisory group actions were made with solid data.


“It wasn’t just an opinionated decision,” he said. “It was based in science and fact.”


Council Member Chris Riley also serves on the Capital Metro board. He also called for the community “to get behind the process” – and, by extension, the Highland route. “We’re never going to make progress on rail if we’re fighting over the first investment,” he said Tuesday.

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