Austin City Council asked to consider light rail bond

MetroRail (Photo: KEYE TV)

This fall, voters could see a bond supporting an urban light rail on the City of Austin November ballot.

The Urban Transportation Commission voted unanimously recommending city council consider rail options as part of a 2016 bond proposal.

"We're behind the eight ball and behind the times anyway, so the sooner we can get the ball rolling the better," says Andrew Clements with the Central Austin Community Development Corporation. Clements has been pushing for an urban light rail for years, but where the rail goes is critical to its success.

"All along North Lamar and Guadalupe there's already density that would support light rail," he says. "We've known since probably the 1970s that's the best place to put light urban rail first," Clements says. He was part of the Our Rail PAC in 2014 that formed to oppose the then-proposed rail's route but not the idea.

Central Austin CDC says the first segment should span from Crestview Station to Republic Square Park in downtown. It would cost about $465 Million.

"Even though it's expensive, the most efficient way is what we need to start dedicating our public right-of-ways to," says Clements. Clements says, if the sticker shock is too much for Austin voters to handle, there is another option. "There is another strategy of just approving the engineering and the route in November of $100-120 million," he says. Then, in 2018 there would likely be another bond election for construction costs. In the end, it would still cost about the same.

The route would help commuters getting to jobs downtown.

"I think it would be a cool thing to do here in Austin," says commuter Jaime Hernandez. He goes to school near Crestview Station and works a block from Republic Square.

"That would be like ... a perfect thing for me," Hernandez says.

Years down the road, rail construction could expand north toward Rundberg Lane, east down Riverside Drive and south down Pleasant Valley Road.

It's a possible mobility solution city council could toss to voters this fall.

"We all need to get somewhere quick and fast and jumping from bus to bus is just not convenient," said another Austin commuter who ran off to catch a bus before giving her name.

Austin residents have a chance to speak directly to council about their mobility concerns at a public hearing on June 14. Legally, Austin City Council can't call for a bond election until August.

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