Austin’s Light Rail Proposal Failed – What Next?

November 11, 2014 by Kate Harrington

In the months and weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell predicted that a failure at the polls for the city’s Proposition 1 bond package, which would have put a combined $1 billion toward a new light rail and road improvements, would mean that no new transit initiative would take shape for a decade or more.

Instead, it seems the issue is anything but dead.

Since voters decisively shot down the rail proposal last week, conversations about a possible “Plan B” have sprung up all over the city.

Transportation app RideScout employees met with city leaders last Friday for a “work bus” meeting to discuss alternative plans for resolving Austin’s growing traffic issues.

Among the ideas discussed were more MetroRapid buses as well as expanding options like Car2go, Austin B-cycle, and more express lanes like those under construction on MoPac.

“I’d like to see a real discussion,” RideScout co-founder and CEO Joseph Kopser told KXAN. “Not one that’s mired in the politics of one side against another, because we can’t have one side against another. I want to see more awareness and a discussion of facts. And most importantly, a talk about the fully burdened cost of mobility in this city.”

Groups like Austinites for Urban Rail Action have also called for an investment in transit on the heels of the failed proposition.

“Capital Metro should immediately move forward with the Riverside MetroRapid line they’ve had in their plans for years,” AURA co-founder Jace Deloney said on AURA’s blog. “This can be a quick, inexpensive way to improve transit service in an area that needs it, and can show our city the advantages of true bus rapid transit that isn’t stuck in traffic.”

A federal grant covered nearly 80 percent of the nearly $50 million it took to start the MetroRapid lines.

Some transit advocates are hoping for a revised rail plan to make it onto a ballot in the next few years.

In the Austin American-Statesman, Ben Wear reports that pro-rail supporters who opposed the routing of the light rail line hope that a new route, maybe one that includes the Guadalupe and North Lamar corridor so many rail proponents advocated, would gain voter support. There are also some voices – although they are not the loudest – calling for more road building instead of transit investment.

Either way, it seems all Austinites agree that the city can no longer afford to do nothing when it comes to addressing traffic problems. What do you think the best solution is?

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.