Note to Austin’s Mayor: Portland light rail revolt continues as financial problems grow and transit market share drops.

COST Commentary:Mayor Leffingwell recently designated Portland as one of Austin’s current peer cities and, although weasel worded, suggested Austin needed to move faster to follow the transit path of its peer cities as related to their major implementation of rail transit. Never mind Austin is far more successful, in almost every respect, than the 5 peer cities he mentioned (see speech below, near end, in bold letters).

The Mayor provides many distorted, misleading and incorrect comments regarding rail transit. He blames traffic for making Austin more unaffordable, but, the city’s regulations and public policies are the main culprit. The mayor suggest trains are needed to relieve congestion. Contrary to his statements, the main problem is: Austin has not provided transportation funds for roadways even close to the approximately 98% proportion of passenger miles traveled on roads. Austin’s funding allocation is more in line with the CAMPO 25 year Transportation Plan which indicates almost one-half the region’s transportation funds will be spent for transit, substantially trains, to serve 1% of the passenger miles traveled. This will substantially degrade overall transportation and transit. It is impossible for train transit to provide the vast majority of individual citizens with access to better opportunities and support their needs for a higher quality of life.

Rail cannot solve Austin’s traffic crises (congestion) or even make a major contribution. The total use of transit has declined over the past dozen years in the four major Texas regions (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin) after billions were spent on transit, primarily rail. The American Public Transit Association’s (APTA) 2013 ridership report indicated these regions dropped a total of about 2,900,000 bus riders during the year while expanded rail, primarily in Dallas and Austin, slightly increased ridership by a little over 500,000 or just under one-sixth the drop in bus riders. These regions remain among the fastest growing in the nation. APTA reported Austin’s bus system declined 1,600,000 riders while the MetroRail service gained 222,000, about one-seventh of the bus loss, due to expanded weekend, special events and higher frequency schedules which were very expensive for Austin Taxpayers. It was sad to witness Cap Metro and the media focus on the minor, but large percentage, increase in MetroRail riders while downplaying or ignoring the loss of 1.6 million bus riders.

The future of Austin is not connected to rail, as the Mayor suggests, and its good jobs have no relationship to rail. The Mayor’s comment of “Rail – or fail” is one of the more uninformed comments made. It defies all evidence and common sense. Austin has already proven this with a large “rail failure” which has burdened taxpayers, reduced overall transit, increased fares and degraded social equity. Austin’s MetroRail (Red Line) boardings are about 2% of total transit boardings but the costs are several times greater than this proportion. Cap Metro reports MetroRail commuter operating cost is $20 per passenger. This is 5 times the $4.00 cost of a bus passenger. Adding capital costs to this substantially increases the cost of MetroRail making it even much less cost-effective than the bus system which carries 98% of transit passengers. Rail costs are not sustainable and moving more bus riders to new rail can only increase costs, reducing overall transit service and choices.

Cap Metro is already planning to spend another $47 million to upgrade the Metro Rail to be able to carry more riders supported by very large taxpayer subsidies, estimated to exceed $10,000 per year for a daily two way rider.

Rail has played an insignificant role in Austin’s success to date and maybe a negative one due to the ineffective, high cost MetroRail. Thankfully, Austin has minuscule rail transit compared to the “peer cities.” Austin’s one, minor rail line has reaffirmed the much larger rail disasters experienced by the mayor’s peer cities.

The story below is about Portland area’s growing revolt against light rail. Portland has often been referred to as “The Mecca of Light Rail” over the past 15 years and promoted by some, with support from the city, as the city to emulate. However, for some years this fairyland story has been crumbling as reality is revealed. As the story below indicates, the region’s citizens are rejecting additional light rail and the transit agency, Trimet, is facing major financial problems with a declining transit market share. Even the head of Trimet stated they may be faced with cutting up to 70% of their transit service if new funding sources are not found (higher taxes for the citizens).

Portland and Austin had similar, and reasonable, affordability thirty years ago, but Portland has become dramatically less affordable due to its transportation and land use policies which place major restrictions on development in an effort to increase population density. Unfortunately, Austin’s affordability is now trending in Portland’s direction as Austin in in the early stages of implementing similar density policies and regulations to those in Portland. Portland has lost more than 60% of its public school enrollment due its lack of affordability for families. At its peak in the 1980s, Portland was at about the same enrollment as Austin is today (over 80,000) Many schools have been closed as Portland is now below 50,000.

If mayor Leffingwell intends for Austin to copy his designated peer cities, we can expect to face similar transit and affordability problems as those which light rail train transit has brought to each of these cities. There is not a single one of these so-called peer cities of Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Portland and San Diego which Austin should mimic in creating rail transit. Rail transit will increase congestion, increase taxes and degrade social equity by reducing transit service, and increasing fares, for the portion of our citizens which are transit dependent and have no alternatives.

Austin has great pride and accomplishment in being creative, unique and above the crowd as one of the most successful and fastest growing regions for several years. This should extend to developing new, innovative transportation and transit solutions which are not based on old, tired 19th century train technology. It does not meet the needs of Austin’s citizens in the 21st century. There are far better models and approaches than the “Rail to Failure” approach which has been demonstrated numerous times by most of Austin’s peer cities and numerous others. We urge the citizens of Austin to rise out of this “rut” and work to effectively address critical citizens’ transportation needs and not those of major greedy rail consultants, contractors and misguided politicians.
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PORTLAND LIGHT RAIL REVOLT CONTINUES
by Wendell Cox, newgeography.com, 03/12/2014

In a hard fought election campaign, voters in the city of Tigard appear to have narrowly enacted another barrier to light rail expansion in suburban Portland. The Washington County Elections Division reported that with 100 percent of precincts counted, Charter Amendment 34-210 had obtained 51 percent of the vote, compared to 49 percent opposed.

The Charter Amendment establishes as city policy that no transit high capacity corridor can be developed within the city without first having been approved by a vote of the people. High capacity transit in Portland has virtually always meant light rail.

In a previous ballot issue, Tigard voters had enacted an ordinance requiring voter approval of any city funding for light rail. Similar measures were enacted in Clackamas County as well as King City in Washington County. Across the Columbia River in Clark County (county seat: Vancouver), voters rejected funding for connecting to the Portland light rail system. After the Clackamas County Commission rushed through a $20 million loan for light rail (just days before the anti-light rail vote), two county commissioners were defeated by candidates opposed to light rail, with a commission majority now in opposition.

Further, a Columbia River Crossing, which would have included light rail to Vancouver was cancelled after the Washington legislature declined funding. In a surreal aftermath, interests in Oregon seriously proposed virtually forcing the bridge on Washington, fully funding the project itself. A just adjourned session of the Oregon legislature failed to act on the proposal, which now (like Rasputin) appears to be dead.

At the same time, Portland’s transit agency faces financial difficulty and has been seriously criticized in a report by Secretary of State. The agency has more than $1 billion in unfunded liabilities and carries a smaller share of commuters than before the first of its six light rail and commuter rail lines was opened. Moreover, the latest American Community Survey data indicates that 3,000 more people work at home than ride transit (including light rail and commuter rail) to work in the Portland metropolitan area. Before light rail (1980), transit commuters numbered 35,000 more than people working at home. Over the period, transit’s market share has dropped one-quarter.
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State of the City 2014
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell

Thank you, and thank you for that kind introduction, Tim.

I also want to thank Ward Tisdale and the rest of the staff and board of the Real Estate Council of Austin for inviting me to be here today.

Before I get started I want to acknowledge some folks who were kind enough to join us, starting with my Council colleagues – Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison, and Bill Spelman.

Thank you all for coming, and thank you for what you do for Austin.

I’m also want to recognize our City Manager, Marc Ott, who could not be here today due to a family illness…as well as: Deputy City Manager Mike McDonald and the other Assistant City Managers joining us today from our management team.

These folks all do great work at City Hall, so please join me in giving them a big hand.

I’m also happy to have my wife Julie Byers here today. Julie, thank you for your unwavering loyalty and for being my best friend.

Finally, I want to ask you to please indulge me while I make a special recognition.

This will be my 6th year as mayor, and come December, my 10th and final year at City Hall.

As some of you know, I spent 32 years as an airline pilot before I ran for City Council, and then was elected mayor.

And what I can tell you is that that flying a B-767 back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, in sometimes bad weather…is the less stressful job.

But the turbulence at City Hall has been made much more tolerable by a talented and devoted group of staff.

So I want to recognize them today – Chief of Staff Nancy Williams, Amy Everhart, Janet Jackson, Sly Majid, Reyne Telles, Lily Smullen…as well as the other support staff and Vista volunteers who help my office run smoothly. Some of my former staff members Matt Curtis, Andy Mormon, and Mark Nathan may be out there, too.

Thanks to each of you for what you’ve done, and what you continue to do for me, and for the city, every day.

Now – before we get down to business, since this is also my final “state of the city” speech, I think I should probably go ahead and address some of the rumors that have been going around about my plans when I do leave the mayor’s office at the end of the year.

And let me say that I can understand why these kinds of rumors get started. Because, as you know, some former Austin mayors have gone on to achieve some great things – from becoming a state senator… to dating Wendy Davis.

So first, the big one – and let me just be very clear about this. I will not – I repeat, I will not – be a candidate for District 10 of the Austin City Council. Obviously the grassroots movement to recruit me has been flattering – but frankly, but I’ve done my time – and – I’d sooner slash my wrists.

Second – and let me be very clear about this one, too – I will not – I say again will not – be replacing Ben Affleck in the new Batman movie. It’s true that there were discussions with the director – and some other people at Warner Brothers – but that’s it.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard or read the rumor that when I leave the mayor’s office – I’ll be recording a double album of duets with Willie Nelson. And actually, this is true.

In fact, we’ve already laid down a few tracks. We’ve recorded some of Willie’s hits, like– “On the Road Again” and we’ve recorded some of my original songs, like the ever popular “Please Take Your Conversation Outside,” “I’m Sorry, Your Three Minutes Are Up”…and “That Passes On A Vote of 5 to 2.”

So I hope you’ll pick that up when it comes out next year.

In the meantime, there’s still a lot of work left to do at City Hall, so let’s try our best for now to focus on the present.

Giving this speech every year is daunting and it’s one of those things that… looking back…makes my job as a jet pilot seem less stressful.

I did give several speeches every day as a pilot – but they were all about 30 seconds long… and focused mainly on the weather.

So to try to fully or fairly characterize the full scope of opportunity…and also challenges facing this dynamic city today…and to get you out of here before you start to get restless…this speech is kind of a tough gig.

That is because there really is so much going on in Austin, Texas. And there are so many different issues that really, truly do matter – even urgently.

The key to our future success is finding connectivity between our obstacles and our opportunities.

Whether it’s economic development, transportation, education, healthcare, public safety, housing, the environment, or any of a dozen other things – they all play a meaningful role in making up this complex system we call Austin.

And believe me, every week at City Hall, we are meeting, and talking, and working on, and debating almost every one.

In the past, I’ve tried my best to touch at least briefly on as many of those issues as I could.

I could do the same today and talk about a lot of different things we’re focused on in the mayor’s office – everything from connecting low-income families to the Internet… to getting our seniors connected to local resources…

…and of course, being a former Navy man, I try hard to be innovative and supportive of veterans’ issues, such as Honor Flight Austin….And I thank many of you out there for your support of that project, but especially Gary Farmer and the St. David’s Foundation for their generosity.

But with the clock ticking on my term, I’m trying hard to narrow my focus – to the one thing that has always mattered most to me as mayor.

And that’s doing everything I can to help ensure that our local economy is as strong as it can be, and that our residents have good jobs.

So that’s what I want to spend a lot of my time talking about today… Because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now – I think “a good quality of life begins with a good job.”

A good job can help us achieve many of our goals in life, while giving us meaningful purpose and a sense of accomplishment.

It helps us provide for ourselves and our families. It helps us earn the things we want – and value the things we earn. It sometimes brings us together with our best friends…

…And often, what we do in our jobs defines how we view ourselves – how we see our role in the world – and how we decide to give back to our community.

In short, getting a good job – or better yet, creating a good job – is how many, maybe even most of us, get to become the people we want to be.

The good news is that Austin, Texas, today, is a great place to get, or create, a good job.

In fact, if you believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’d be hard pressed to make the case that there is any better city in America.

Over the time I’ve been mayor, our job market has grown by leaps and bounds and we’ve been called the #1 fastest-growing job market in America – by far.

As recently as November, our unemployment rate was as low as 4.7% – compared to 6.1% statewide, and 7% nationally.

And just in the last three months, the Austin economy has been ranked as the top performing metro economy in the country by the Milken Institute and the Business Journals.

And just two weeks ago, Forbes named Austin the fastest growing city in the U.S… for the fourth year in a row, saying that with an economy like ours, and I quote, “it’s hard for others to compete these days.” Not too shabby.

So, if good jobs are the big issue – and I think they are – then there’s really nothing other to say about Austin than this:

In its 174-year-history, the state of our city has never, ever been stronger – and it’s still getting stronger every single day.

So the next important questions are: How did we get here, and how do we keep it going?

Why exactly have we enjoyed this success?

Well, first, as I’ve said before, I think we have to acknowledge that at least some of Austin’s economic success isn’t due to anything that any of us have done.

If anything, we were smart enough to “move to” – or, like me, were lucky enough to “be born in” – a city and a region where the conditions have almost always been – and still are today – ripe for growth.

We’re the capital of one of America’s largest and fastest-growing states and we’re home to the one of the largest public universities in the country.

We have extraordinary natural beauty, a temperate climate – most of the time – and the best natural swimmin’ hole in America.

We’re on the receiving end of longtime national migration trends from east and west, and from rural to urban…

…And, we live in a state that is very friendly to economic development.

All of this together means a city that has basically doubled in size every 25 years or so since it was founded. In fact, I have seen Austin’s population double about three times in my lifetime.

Today, as hard as it is to believe that we have surpassed cities like San Francisco and Indianapolis…we’re the 11th largest city in the country.

So on one hand, it seems pretty clear that – to some extent – favorable circumstances laid the foundation for population growth, and population growth laid the foundation for economic success.

On the other hand, it’s not that simple. Because the truth is that population growth is no guarantee of economic growth – even though the two are sometimes mistaken for each other.

In fact, when it comes to jobs and our economy, we’ve actually been far less lucky than we’ve been good.

Over the last 30 years in particular, Austin has been focused, methodical, and strategic about really making sure that if our population was going to continue to grow… our economy would grow along with it.

We have aggressively, creatively, and successfully, pursued and developed semiconductors, software, healthcare and life sciences, clean energy, film and music, mobile and social media, tourism and conventions, and other targeted industries… using every tool at our disposal, to help bring sustained economic growth to our city.

That includes the strategic and judicious use of economic incentives, many of which have been in the news a little lately.

Now, whether you like them or not, I have to say here that I think it’s undeniable that incentives have played a key role in Austin’s economic success in recent years.

Because – again, like it or not – when it comes to winning and keeping good employers and good jobs, it’s a competition…and we are competing with some great peer cities across the country…and even around the world.

Major employers that any city would have killed for – Apple and Facebook, for example – set up shop or expanded their operations in Austin, in part because we, through a vote by my colleagues on the City Council, were able to work with the State to offer them appropriate, competitive incentives to do so.

Now, the fact is, we use incentives far less than I think most people assume. Actually, since I’ve been mayor, we’ve only approved a total of eleven incentive packages, three just this month.

That averages out to about two per year.

But…from 2009 to 2012, just these deals have resulted in agreements to deliver over 8,000 good new jobs, and more than 550 million dollars in new investment in our community.

With just these 11 deals… I’m talking about over a half a billion dollars in: Austin property being purchased, leases being signed, contracts for improvements to build out space being executed, and office furniture, computers, and machinery being bought… Here in Austin. That’s a big deal.

So, incentives have proven to be an effective tool to attract jobs and economic opportunity to Austin – and a tool that actually results in a benefit to the taxpayer. Economic incentives help achieve economic growth and deliver jobs.

My further view is that we shouldn’t – as we have recently done – burden those incentives with other requirements that are so stringent as to render the benefits moot… that the deal becomes a wash. But, I’ll save that speech for another day.

So – if we go back to the first question – “how did we get here?” – I think the answer is probably two-fold: We were dealt a pretty good hand, and we played our cards very well.

But it’s the second question that’s really the more important of the two: “How do we keep it going?”

Obviously, to a great extent, what we have been doing is working, and we should keep on doing it…..

But our work is not done, you see, while we outpace our peers, as I understand, we still have over 20,000 unemployed in our region… and more than 170,000 folks living under the poverty line…. so while it seems like we are on top, our work is not finished.

We need to continue to focus on developing and diversifying our mix of industries and employers… and working diligently for good jobs with good pay and good benefits… using every tool we have.

We also need to keep our eyes peeled, constantly, for new opportunities to build on our strengths, and take advantage of the unique diversity of industry and expertise that we have created.

I can tell you that I think we do have at least one special opportunity like that now, in the coming-together of a few of the most exciting, big new projects in Austin’s modern history.

As I think most of you know, thanks to Austin voters and the vision and determination of a group of community leaders led by Senator Kirk Watson…downtown is about to become home to the new U.T. Medical School, as well as a new Seton teaching hospital.

That medical complex will be a transformative development… for UT, downtown Austin, and the city as a whole…. and will do as much good for our economy as it does for the quality and availability of our healthcare.

I am eager to see the vision for the Dell Medical School executed by inaugural dean Dr. Clay Johnston, a practicing neurologist.

Now – at the same time the medical school is coming online, the transformation of Waller Creek will also be coming to fruition.

Running the full length of the eastern edge of downtown, from Waterloo Park to Lady Bird Lake, the Waller Creek project will lift 28 acres of downtown land out of the floodplain, and invest as much as $60 million – most of that private funding – in creating a series of dynamic, new, signature public parks.

This incredible and important project is also the product of yeomen’s work on the part of many people, but perhaps none more so than the trio of founding board members of the Waller Creek Conservancy.

So in recognition of their ongoing efforts, I want to recognize Tom Meredith, who could not be here today, and to ask Melba Whatley and Melanie Barnes to please stand up and let us give them a big round of applause.

Thank you all very much for what you are doing for Austin.

Now, with these two very big things happening in the same part of downtown – and with the potential redevelopment of many of the buildings in the Capitol complex, also in this area – and, more broadly, because of the successful ongoing transformation of our downtown into a place to work, and live, and play – I see what I think is a unique, new, and big opportunity for Austin.

Like Boston did with Kendall Square near MIT, I believe we have the potential to remake what has been one of the most underutilized parts of downtown into a thriving new cluster of global commerce, culture, creativity and connectivity.

That’s why I’ve created and convened what we’re calling the “Innovation Zone” Advisory Group.

Made up of community stakeholders and representatives from UT, the City, the County and the State…the group’s goal is to develop a vision and a plan for transforming the northeast quadrant of downtown, around 15th and Red River, into a new epicenter of job creation… with cutting-edge medical research…development…and commercialization at its core.

I intend to continue to chair the Advisory Group through the remainder of my term, and then at the end of the year, ask Senator Watson to assume leadership of this effort in his spare time, and he’s agreed.

I can tell you that I am truly convinced that the Innovation Zone project holds real promise for Austin’s economy…a connected Austin…an Austin of tomorrow… and I know that with the active participation of the partners, and the leadership of Senator Watson and others, we can and will realize that promise.

Now, as much as I like being positive and upbeat – and yes… this is what I look like when I’m being positive and upbeat…

…the truth is that if we want to continue to prosper, we can’t just build off of our strengths. We also have to attack our weaknesses.

So I want to address the huge risk I think our city and our economy will face if we fail to act on one of our critical weaknesses.

Folks, if you’ve ever believed anything I’ve ever said, I hope you’ll believe me now when I say that our traffic crisis… and I did say crisis, in Austin, Texas has reached a point where it threatens to undermine what we’ve accomplished, and what we can accomplish.

I know that it can be easy to think of Austin’s traffic as just an annoyance, an inconvenience or a fact of life. But it’s wrong, and in fact it’s dangerous, to let ourselves think that way.

Our traffic problem isn’t just an annoyance. It is a deadly serious threat to almost all of the things we have achieved and continue to strive toward.

It threatens our safety. In each of the last two years, we’ve seen nearly 80 traffic fatalities on our roads. That’s an unacceptably high and worrisome number. Congestion slows down our first responders in situations where every second counts.

It threatens our environment – especially the quality of our air. Know that the EPA has set minimum air standard measurements. If we fail to meet these requirements we face possible loss of federal funding for transportation projects…. and Austin and Central Texas have been flirting with this federal non-attainment status for years.

If traffic congestion continues to grow like this, we’ll reach it soon – and we’ll pay a price if we do.

Our traffic crisis also undermines our efforts to keep Austin affordable.

As congestion worsens, it becomes a key factor in the housing choices people make. That leads to the huge increases in the cost of housing we’ve already seen in the central city. That, in turn, only forces more people to commute even farther every day.

But most of all, our traffic problem slowly steals away the thing that I think all of us value the most…our time.

According to a recent analysis, a typical Austin driver with a 30-minute commute now, experiences an estimated 83 hours of traffic delays over the course of a year.

83 hours. That’s almost two full weekends a year spent sitting in traffic, instead of being home with your family, or out with your friends.

Not only are all these negative impacts bad and unsustainable in and of themselves, they also work together to punch a gaping hole in our economic strategy.

The basic premise of Austin – the thing that’s truly at the heart of our prosperity – is our special quality of life… it’s a mindset, it’s an attitude, and by in large…. it’s the reason events want us to host them here and why so many folks choose to live here or want to move here.

But our traffic crisis today is eating away at almost all the things that make this city what it is.

You may have recently read the estimate that the Austin metropolitan area’s net population grows by 110 people… every single day. Our best guess is that means 70 additional cars on our roads every day.

At this rate we could see 490 more cars on our roads this week than last, and we would see 25,550 additional cars on the road this year. That means a potential quarter million new cars on the road in 10 years by 2024.

And that means – unless we’re prepared to simply watch our quality of life and economy deteriorate – we must act.

Now, I think it has to be said that we got into this mess in the first place by virtue of our own inaction. For years, we did mostly just sit and watch as our population grew, and our traffic got worse.

But fortunately, over about the last 15 years or so, we have finally started to get serious about dealing with our transportation problem.

Since 2000, Austin voters have approved almost $500 million in bond funds to help pay for transportation infrastructure – most of it improvements to our roadways.

We’ve also seen more than $4 billion in county and state funds spent on transportation infrastructure in our region over the last 16 years – again, the vast majority on roadways.

Looking ahead, we have somewhere around $3 billion worth of transportation projects planned in our region – and again, most of it is for roads. Not all, but most. And that’s good.

But – even as we have made and planned these big investments, it’s only become more clear, to more people, that roads – while good – are just one piece of the puzzle… and by themselves are not going to solve our traffic crisis in all parts of the region.

I have met with folks that think more roads are not the answers… and some that say that building more roads to solve your traffic problem is like buying a bigger belt to solve your weight problem.

And in the end, many agree that the only real solution is to change behavior.

The behavior we have to change, in order to fix our problem, is to connect people – in every way we can – by helping them get from where they are, to where they want to go by providing sustainable options on how to get there.

That means one thing: We must – we must – prioritize and invest now in a real multi-modal mass transit system for this region, if we want Austin to continue to prosper.

Now, it’s true we’ve made some progress on this front as well. Capital Metro, especially over the past four years, has picked itself up and become, in my view, an effective mass transit agency.

Our bus system is good and getting better. The new MetroRapid service has just launched, with the help of nearly $40 million in federal funds… The new buses use priority lanes and have the capability to delay a signal light change for several seconds, speeding up the routes.

MetroRail – the Red Line commuter rail between Leander and downtown Austin – is also online, with ridership growing steadily. Boardings now average 65,000 per month, with trains at full capacity during peak hours.

But what has been missing from our approach – until now – has been a shared regional vision for how our mass transit system should connect.

That’s why, two years ago, CAMPO re-created – and I have been proud to Chair – the Transit Working Group.

Made up of elected and community leaders from across the region, the Transit Working Group has been working diligently to develop a high-capacity transit plan for Central Texas.

The work of that Group – along with the effort called Project Connect… which is a partnership between the City of Austin, Capital Metro, Lone Star Rail District and CAMPO – will soon culminate in a plan, and a recommendation for action.

I think it’s safe to say that the next recommendation will likely be for the first phase of an urban rail system through central Austin – and that proposal, with the support of the City Council, is likely to land on the November ballot.

Now, let me say, for most of us in this room, the only passenger rail system we’ve had in Austin has been the Zilker Zephyr.

And I’ll admit that for a long time, I thought the Zilker Zephyr might be sufficient.

But by the time of the 2000 light rail election, it was apparent to me that Austin needed a real urban rail system.

But the measure failed…barely – and here we are, 14 years later. And I can tell you, it’s crystal clear to me that the price of failing at the ballot box this time would be enormous.

Here’s the basic equation:

#1. If we want continued prosperity in Austin – if we want to connect our residents with good jobs – we’ve not only got to build on our strengths, we’ve got to attack our weaknesses.

#2. Our single greatest weakness – the one thing that promises to adversely affect our quality of life – is our traffic crisis.

And #3. Roads alone won’t solve our traffic crisis. Neither will rail – but it’s clear we’ll never succeed without both.

Let me make it even simpler:

Rail – or fail.

A few minutes ago, I said – and I bet most of you agreed – that Austin is in a competition with our peer cities to win and keep good jobs.

30 years ago, probably most people would have considered cities like Tallahassee or Sacramento or Little Rock or Madison to have been Austin’s peer cities.

But today, I think you’d find consensus here and elsewhere that Austin’s peers are now cities like Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Portland, and San Diego.

And what you need to know is that just Denver, Seattle and San Diego, over the past 14 years, have together invested more than $10 billion in rail transit.

Our competitors figured out the equation – and our competitors took action.

Now the ball is about to be in our court one more time, and it will be up to us, as a community, to decide how to move forward.

Of course, all of the final details matter – the technology, the cost, the funding plan, the route, the operations plan, and more.

But there will be good answers to all of those questions. And when we get to Election Day, there’ll only be one big question left:

Yes – or no?

I hope you’ll agree that the correct answer yes.

Let me finish today by going back to the beginning and saying it again plainly – the state of our city is strong. It’s never been stronger.

On December 27th of this year, Austin will celebrate its 175th birthday – its septaquintaquinquecentennial. And I think we can confidently say that we are living today in what is the golden era of our city’s long history.

In so many ways, Austin is simply one of the most amazing and most promising cities of the 21st century.

We aren’t without our shortcomings – no one is.

But for the most part, today, our economy is fundamentally strong and sound. And our community is fundamentally safe thanks to our public safety employees and their Chiefs in Fire, EMS, and Police: Kerr, Rodriguez, and Acevedo. And Chief Acevedo – you’re doing a great job, and we won’t forget that.

Our culture is vibrant and evolving. Our aspirations are for greater equity and justice.

Yes, in some ways, we’ve been lucky. But in more ways, we’ve been good. Our success in Austin has not happened by accident – and it won’t continue by chance.

The future of Austin is an Austin connected to rail… but also… the future of Austin is an Austin connected to good jobs.

An Austin that connects our growing elderly population, as well as our Veterans, with the types of services they need.

An Austin that is proud to be among the first in the country to have several companies provide high speed internet to its residents… yet does not forget to connect this service, with those who really can use it the most…

And friends, as a new dawn approaches for our form of City Government… and we look to a map that shows 10 districts…. let us not forget that Austinites are… and always have been a connected community.

If we’ll keep working hard and smart, and choose wisely when we reach big crossroads, then I know we can – and will – leave Austin better than we found it.

And believe me that’s saying something.

It has been, and it remains, the great privilege of my life to serve as the mayor of my hometown – and so I say thank you, God bless you, and God bless Austin, Tex

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