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Connections 2025 delayed yet again

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Connections 2025 is facing another monthlong delay.

During a Monday afternoon work session on the proposed overhaul of the agency’s bus network, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors remained riddled with anxieties, leading Chair Wade Cooper to postpone the expected Jan. 23 vote to implement the sweeping changes.

City Council Member Delia Garza told her colleagues on the board that, despite several discussions with staff in recent months, she still needs more information.

“These are always really tough decisions, but what always makes me feel better about a tough decision is having evidence to say, ‘Here’s why I voted this way and here’s why I made this decision,’” she said. “And I don’t feel like I have that right now.”

The work session kicked off with public testimony from a handful of speakers who generally touched upon the lingering controversies of Connections 2025.

Council Member Alison Alter was the first to speak. She noted that Monday was her first official day in office as District 10’s representative at City Hall. District 10, which covers much of West Austin, would see the loss or reduction of several bus routes under the Connections 2025 draft.

Said Alter, “We’ve been talking for decades about the need to reconnect Austin because of the barrier created by Interstate 35. I am worried that by cutting off transit west of MoPac (Expressway), that we are creating a similar set of divisions within our city.”

One of Alter’s counterparts from East Austin also entered testimony expressing skepticism about the plan’s vision of increasing frequency at the expense of reducing service coverage in suburban areas where buses are less cost-efficient.

“Because of the expense of rental, leasing and home ownership, individuals who work to keep this city operating have been forced to move to the edges of our community through no fault of their own,” Council Member Ora Houston wrote in a letter to the board, which was read at the meeting by one of her aides. She went on to say that Capital Metro’s “key focus” should be on “providing options for customers who reside outside of the center-city.”

Connections 2025 Project Manager Lawrence Deeter reminded the board that areas that lose bus service could be replaced with what have been dubbed “Innovation Zones,” wherein the agency will run pilot programs for alternative forms of transit to ferry riders to the larger bus network.

Council Member Ann Kitchen asked if Deeter could provide a side-by-side cost comparison of maintaining the routes on the chopping block versus the full implementation of Connections 2025. Deeter and Russ Chisholm of the consulting firm Transportation Management & Design explained that the task would be complicated, because some of the proposed eliminations will be partially covered by revisions in other routes, and also because the Innovation Zone idea is already baked into the proposed budget.

That didn’t fully satisfy Kitchen and remained one of the many points causing frustration among the board members. Ultimately, Cooper opted to schedule further discussion during the Jan. 23 board meeting with a final vote set for the Feb. 27 meeting.

The board had originally planned to vote on Connections 2025 last month.

Photo by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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