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What’s Project Connect’s first stop after Austin voters handily pass Prop A?

Thursday, November 5, 2020 by Samuel King

Before any shiny new train and bus lines hit the streets of Austin, the less glamorous work of planning and administration must begin.

City Council and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors will meet next month to discuss appointments to a new local government corporation that will oversee the transit expansion, known as Project Connect.

The announcement comes just a day after Austin voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition A, the ballot measure that raises property taxes to help fund the $7.1 billion plan for new train and bus lines, park-and-rides and other transit improvements.

The new Austin Transit Partnership will be led by a five-member board. One member will come from Council and another from the Capital Metro board. There will also be an expert in finance, one in engineering and another in community planning. The board must be seated by Jan. 1, according to a city memo released Wednesday.

“That’s perhaps job number one, finding the leadership for that board,” said Wade Cooper, chair of the Capital Metro board. “We don’t want to waste a single day here.”

While major projects like the new Blue and Orange line light rail trains are several years away, Cooper said other parts of the plan will be in place sooner.

Capital Metro has already begun the process of requesting federal funding to help with an expansion of MetroRapid limited bus stop service, including a new line in East Austin along Pleasant Valley Road. Upgrades on the Red Line to add new stations and capacity are also planned for the next few years.

Officials are anticipating that federal grants could cover 45 percent of the costs of major projects.

Prop A enjoyed wide support from a coalition of community groups, which continue to be involved in shaping the plan.

“We’re really optimistic that (Capital Metro is) ready and prepared to manage a project of this size,” said Bay Scoggin, executive director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group. “Now the community and advocates all across the city are going to be involved in making sure that we’re on time and on schedule and under budget and getting everything we need.”

Members of a group skeptical of the plan, Voices of Austin, also said their efforts will continue.

“We, just like all other Austinites, want affordable transportation options that are safe and available for people who need them and who want to take public transportation options,” said Paul Theobald, a Voices of Austin board member. “And we’re just going to keep an eye on … the $7 billion that they say they’re going to raise from the tax increases to pay for this.”

Cooper is encouraging the community to hold officials accountable and said the overwhelming support for Prop A shows people are ready for change.

“I think people were fed up with congestion and wanted to make a better city and felt good about the option here, so (it’s) very gratifying,” he said.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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