Commissioner Gerald Daugherty Articles on Light rail

COST Commentary: This posting contains a series of seven transportation articles by Travis County’s Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. They were published over a seven month period starting April of this year. The series focuses on Austin’s proposed light rail and its myriad of critical issues, including:

the inadequate process leading to this proposed light rail;
the poor rail performance already being experienced by Austin and many similar cities;
the exorbitant costs of rail with resulting awful cost-effectiveness;
the increasing congestion due to rail taking a huge portion of the finite transportation dollars and preventing other projects which can have a real impact on congestion;
the degradation of the bus transit system which is the backbone transportation for those who have no alternative; the rail’s tax increases and the major and continuing assault on affordability.

March 2014 Column
By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

My Thoughts on Austin’s Traffic Congestion and Urban Rail – Part 1

With great interest, I read the American-Statesman’s February 26th report on Mayor Leffingwell’s State of the City speech, and the February 27th report that the Mayor declined the Democratic National Committee’s offer to apply for the 2016 convention. I feel compelled to comment on both of those.

FIRST, regarding the 2016 Democratic National Convention… the reason we had to decline the invitation to apply is simple… As Mayor Leffingwell said, we don’t have a large enough venue to hold the required number of people. But using the reason “unlike peer cities such as Charlotte, N.C. , Austin does not have an urban rail system that can easily transport visitors to and from a convention site” troubles me. While I have the utmost respect for Mayor Leffingwell, this reason makes no sense to me. Here’s why.

Democratic National Convention eligibility rules require buses and adequate transportation to get delegates to and from convention sites. The rules DO NOT REQUIRE RAIL. As for mentioning peer city Charlotte’s rail system that “could easily transport visitors to and from a convention site”… the Charlotte Observer reported that, for security reasons, the end-of-the-line downtown rail stations near the convention arena were closed. What good was that rail line for convenience in getting to the convention site?

SECOND, regarding the Mayor’s State of the City speech… I was especially intrigued by quotes attributed to the Mayor in speaking about how to deal with our traffic crisis: “For years, we did mostly just sit and watch as our population grew and our traffic got worse, while peer cities invested billions in rail”… “Our competitors figured out the equation and took action”… “Austin must invest in a robust, multi-modal transit system that includes rail”… “Rail or Fail”.

While it’s true that Austin “did mostly just sit as our population grew” and failed to build a comprehensive road system, it’s misleading to imply that we have not invested in public transit. As a matter of fact, WE HAVE INVESTED BILLIONS. Since 1985, we’ve “invested” over $2.7 billion in our public transit system via the sales taxes collected for Capital Metro… not to mention the hundreds of millions we’ve received from the feds. And what have we gotten for that? Census Bureau Data shows that Austin’s Work Trip Market Share for Transit in the year 2000 was 2.5%. For 2010, it was 2.3%. THAT’S A DROP, folks. Contrast that with Work at home (includes Telecommuting)… in 2000 Austin’s market share was 3.6%, in 2010 it was 7.3%. That’s a doubling!

As for all those “peer cities that invested billions in rail”… how has that worked out for them?… has rail helped their transit systems gain market share? Once again, here’s Census Bureau data regarding Major Metropolitan Commuting Trends from 2000 to 2010. As reported in Newgeography….“In a number of the metropolitan areas with the largest expenditures for new rail systems, there were either LOSSES, or commuting gains were concentrated in the more flexible bus services”. Here are examples:

Portland… (which Austin seems to want to emulate) continued its 30 year transit market share erosion, despite adding three new light rail lines between 2000 and 2010.
Atlanta… lost more than 3000 rail commuters.

Charlotte, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Phoenix… modest ridership increases, with most of those on their bus systems.
Salt Lake City… a small decline in transit commuting.

Dallas-Fort Worth… its light rail system more than doubled in length, yet they lost more than 3000 daily transit commuters (transit’s market share in DFW dropped from 1.8% to 1.4%). Houston… lost nearly 3000 daily transit commuters (transit market share dropping from 3.2% to 2.3%), despite building their first light rail line during this period.

My issue is with the term “Multi-modal”, because every time we see that word today it really means “RAIL”. We already have a multi-modal transit system. We have buses of all kinds (Local, Express, Airport Flyer, MetroRapid, UT Shuttle). We also have MetroAccess, van pools, bicycles, and sidewalks so people can walk. We also have a rail component – Metro Rail… a $100 million plus system, with $13 million in yearly operating costs, that carries about 1750 riders a day (that’s about 0.3% of the approximately 550,000 commuters in Travis County). We don’t need to spend the billions it would cost for more rail, wherever it would be built. Rail won’t help you get to any more places than you already can today.

Next time I’ll talk about the issue of rail in Austin, some cost-effective congestion fighting measures, and my simple plan for the proposed Urban Rail corridor.

April 2014 Column
By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

My Thoughts on Austin’s Traffic congestion and Urban Rail – Part 2

Last month I began commenting on my reaction to Mayor Leffingwell’s February State of the City speech. I pointed out that we HAVE invested BILLIONS in public transit… that it hadn’t worked out well for those “peer cities that invested billions in rail”… and that the rail component of our multi-modal transit system carries maybe 0.3% of our commuters at an outlandish cost.

With Austin’s MetroRail share of commuters at 0.3%, let’s do some calculations for that proposed billion dollar 9 mile rail line running from Highland Mall to East Riverside Dr.

Estimates predict that we’ll add 250,000 new cars to our roadways by 2040. Generously assume that 1% (2,500) of those 250,000 new commuters would use any proposed urban rail line each day. Why would we spend a billion dollars on those 2,500? What will we do for the 247,500 that won’t use rail, but will need better roads (even if they take the bus)? If we spend a billion dollars on this rail line and billions more on others, where will we get the money to do things that would actually help with traffic congestion?

It also appears that we’ll be counting on federal grant money to help pay for that line. A decision on that grant application would take about 4 years (long after this fall’s proposed rail bond election). Even more ominous is the possibility that we won’t get that grant. What do we do then? (Congressional funding for new transit projects is limited, and there are plenty of other cities already ahead of Austin with their applications.)

Here are some well-thought-out ideas that Tom Terkel expressed in an editorial column last June for Culture Map Austin & Leadership Austin:
“Start by defining the problem… It’s Peak Hour Congestion (ie, the morning and afternoon rush hours). Prioritize congested corridors for spending…. Can we alter that road or create an alternative route? Can transit help alleviate the Peak Hour Congestion? Analyze the costs of each possible solution and describe the return on investment in terms of congestion relief. What we need is an honest process that works to solve Peak Hour Congestion…WITHOUT A PRE-ORDAINED OUTCOME.”

Can we honestly say that Project Connect has followed this approach? Have they analyzed whether this Urban Rail plan would have any effect at all on those congested areas? And, rail seems to be the pre-ordained choice… especially with the Mayor’s proclamation of “Rail or Fail”.

What’s our goal? Our goal is to make a dent in our rush-hour traffic congestion. How will this rail line accomplish that? In addition to those that already use public transit along this route, how many NEW people will this rail line attract? Are those few NEW transit users worth a billion dollar project? Another “kicker” is that this rail line might even take away a traffic lane for cars, trucks, & even buses. Why would we reduce road capacity when we desperately need more?

We not only need more roads (lane miles), we need transportation system strategies that would actually help with congestion. Here are a few…. High Occupancy Toll/Vehicle Lanes, Traffic Light Synchronization, Local Street Connectivity, Go Over/Under our Major Roadways, Teleworking, Staggered Work Times. The only way we would have a chance to implement some of these is if we don’t waste billions of dollars on an ineffective rail system.

I was heavily involved in the 2000 Light Rail election. Luckily for Austin, we defeated that billion dollar+ proposal. I didn’t actively oppose the 2004 MetroRail proposal because I figured we might as well try that rail experiment and see what happens. I think we all know that it’s been a waste of money in our efforts to reduce congestion (and it caused a financial crisis for Capital Metro).
Subsequent “feelers” to call for a rail election (in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012) were thankfully put on hold.

Once again we see a push for a rail election this November. Once again it’s for the FIRST PHASE ONLY of a system that would cost who-knows-how-many-more BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. Once again I will be compelled to be as outspoken in opposition to this rail plan as I was in 2000. Once again the phrase “Costs Too Much, Does Too Little” still rings true.

Here’s my idea for a relatively cheap experiment in this proposed urban rail corridor. Let’s paint two stripes in the road along the proposed route, run MetroRapid buses along this route, and see what kind of ridership develops. WE DON’T NEED A BILLION DOLLAR RAIL LINE TO FIND OUT! (Especially since it wouldn’t open till around 2021.)

May 2014 Column
By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

$1.4 BILLION for 9 MILES of RAIL?

And that’s just the start, folks! Hi-Speed Rail, Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail, and most recently this FIRST PHASE ONLY Urban Rail proposal for $1.4 BILLION. If you add up the cost for all the proposed rail projects for this region, we’ll end up throwing away who knows how many BILLIONS OF DOLLARS in a misguided attempt to ease our traffic congestion.

After observing the Project Connect presentation to the Central Corridor Advisory Group on May 2nd, I’m once again compelled to comment. Even though my last two columns were my thoughts about Urban Rail for Austin, the magnitude of what will happen to this community if we spend BILLIONS OF DOLLARS on rail compels me to speak out even more.

Before I continue, let’s get one thing straight. When people hear me speak out against rail for Austin, they assume that I’m against public transit/transportation. That’s not true… in fact I supported and voted for the formation of Capital Metro. I realize and support the need for an EFFECTIVE public transportation system for those that don’t have or can’t afford their own car. What I am against is anything that makes no economic sense.

Being a businessman, I always ask: “What’s the Return on Our Investment?” How much is the money we’re proposing to spend going to affect the problem we’re trying to solve? In the case of rail for Austin, we need to ask… How is all this spending on rail going to actually solve our problem of traffic congestion?… especially during rush hours? How many NEW public transit riders will use a costly rail system? If we can’t logically show that enough NEW commuters will give up their vehicles to lessen traffic congestion in a proposed rail corridor, we’re fooling ourselves by just hoping that enough NEW commuters will start using public transit just because it’s a rail car instead of a bus.

Does the term AFFORDABILITY sound familiar? We constantly see newspaper articles and hear radio reports about how so many things make living in Austin unaffordable…. Cost of Living, Housing, Rent, Low Wages, Utility rates, Property Taxes, etc. Elected officials and taxing authorities are constantly being asked to hold the line on increasing taxes. What effect do you think this first-phase-only rail plan will have on affordability in Austin? How about future bond elections that would be needed for subsequent rail plans? If you think Austin is unaffordable now, just wait until YOU are asked for the billions of dollars needed to build and maintain even more rail lines.

Now on to the May 2nd presentation and recommendation that rail is the preferred mode for the Central Corridor. Last November one of my staff members sent an email to Capital Metro’s Community Involvement Manager about an interactive event that was to be a “Community Conversation on our next transit investment”. My staff member pointed out that we were already getting the message that rail will be the mode, & that Project Connect seemed to just want input on where to build this rail line. He also asked several questions that needed to be answered before we built it. Capital Metro’s response assured him that rail was not yet the chosen mode, and if rail happened to be the chosen mode for this corridor, they could then address his questions.

Lo and behold, at the May 2nd presentation rail WAS the chosen mode for the Central Corridor. Using Capital Metro ridership figures that show approximately 0.3% of Travis County commuters use the existing Metro Rail (and remembering that most of those were previous bus riders), let’s see if these questions sent last November will now be answered:

How will this rail line improve traffic congestion for the 99.7% of commuters that won’t use it?

Why spend over a billion dollars on the 0.3% of commuters that MIGHT use this rail line?

What other things could we do with the billion+ dollars that would be spent on this rail line?

Were are we going to find the money to replace the billion+ dollars spent on this rail line? (money that we desperately need to do things that would actually help with our traffic congestion.)

There are many other things I could comment on about the May 2nd presentation, but they’ll have to wait for next time. And by then, we’ll have recommendations on phasing options for this rail line, how to fund it, who will run it, estimated operating costs, etc. That presentation is scheduled for May 16th…. And I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts after that.
June 2014 Column
By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

A Look at Other Supposed “Successes with Rail”

Last month I talked about the foolishness of spending $1.4 Billion for 9 miles of Urban Rail in a futile attempt to alleviate our traffic congestion. Some of the stated justifications for spending this money has been examples of purported rail successes in other cities, as well as Austin’s own Metro Rail. I briefly talked about some of them in my March column. This month we’ll go into more detail on some of these…. Dallas, Houston, Denver, Portland, & Austin’s own Metro Rail.

For these cities that invested in rail… How has that worked out for them?… Has rail helped their transit systems gain market share?… Has rail helped increase ridership on their systems? The statistics and data referenced below are from the American Public Transportation Association, which gathers data reported to them by public transportation agencies like Capital Metro. The APTA then produces Quarterly Ridership Reports on transit agencies in the U.S. You can find the data (all the way back to 1990) on their website

Dallas-Fort Worth… Their 2008 to 2013 gain of 28,500 average weekday light rail ridership was offset by the loss of 28,500 in their commuter rail and bus ridership. (ie… Their overall transit system ridership stayed flat.)

Houston… From 2008 to 2013 average weekday light rail ridership dropped by 1,000 and bus ridership dropped by 28,700. (Their overall transit system ridership dropped by 31,000… so what good did rail do for them?)

Here’s what’s really scary about Houston’s rail system. Houston transportation reporter Bill King wrote in August of 2013: “Houston’s light rail referendum narrowly passed in 2003, an approximately 13 mile system estimated to cost $1.2 billion. The actual cost is now $3 billion to $4 billion. Studies by Houston Metro about their rail system clearly showed two things… (1) Their system will not reduce traffic congestion, (2) Their system will not meaningfully increase transit ridership. This is a colossal boondoggle.” What lesson should this teach us about our proposed 9 mile, $1.4 billion rail line?

Denver… While their average weekday light rail ridership increased by 14,100 from 2008 to 2013, their overall transit system ridership decreased by 7000 for the same period. (ie… They lost more bus riders than they gained in rail riders.)

Another scary report about Denver is the cost of their system. As reported in June of 2013 by Daniel Bier of Reason Foundation: “In 2004, Denver voters approved $4.7 billion for 122 miles of light rail, expected to be built by 2016. Today only 48 miles are built, and their budget has ballooned to $7.4 billion, with the rest maybe built by 2044… except they don’t even have the money to pay for the present overrun.” Is this another lesson for us here in Austin?

Portland (which Austin seems to want to emulate)… Their average weekday light rail ridership increased by 7,700 from 2008 to 2013, but their overall transit system ridership decreased by 13,800 for the same period. (Once again, a city that built rail lost more bus riders than they gained in rail riders.) Plus, Portland’s transit agency if facing financial difficulty with more than $1 billion in unfunded liabilities, and citizens in the region are refusing to support light rail expansion. Again, another lesson for us?

Austin… Metro Rail opened in 2010 with average weekday ridership of 800, and by 2013 the ridership had increased to 2,400 (but, the 2012 ridership was 2,800… meaning the ridership actually decreased in 2013). Remember that ridership is not riders. At the least, divide the ridership figure by 2… which means that we had 1,200 average weekday riders in 2013. This is what we’ve gotten from a $100 million plus system, with $13 million in yearly operating costs.

Austin’s overall transit system’s average weekday ridership in 2008 was 140,700… while in 2013 it was 126,100… a drop of 14,600 (so adding rail in 2010 was no help at all in increasing transit usage).

Since 1985, Austin has given over $2.7 billion to our public transit system via the sales taxes collected for Capital Metro, not to mention the hundreds of millions they’ve received from the feds. And what have we gotten for all that money?… A drop in weekday transit usage since 2008 (remember, weekdays are when we need help with congestion)… An addition of a costly while ineffective rail line… And now a call for even more costly rail.
Maybe we should ask the citizens of Houston, Denver, and Portland how rail is working out for them?

July 2014 Column
By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

Roads and Rail on the Same Bond Proposition?

In recent history, Austin has had 2 rail elections… the 2000 Light Rail proposal that was defeated by a majority of Capital Metro service area voters, and the 2004 MetroRail proposal that was approved (without any significant opposition). Once again, there’s a proposal for a rail election this Fall. Except, this election will have a twist to it… instead of letting a rail proposal stand on its own merits, the powers-that-be have decided to bundle a few road projects with their $1.4 billion dollar rail proposal.


This idea probably began last year, after a June 2013 opinion poll by the Downtown Austin Alliance showed a majority opposed to rail if it meant higher taxes. This poll wasn’t widely known until the Statesman’s Ben Wear wrote about it on February 28th of this year. Additionally, there’ve been rumors that the Chamber of Commerce also conducted a poll that showed significant opposition to the rail plan, after which a Chamber representative talked about wanting to “go big” on the bond proposition. The term “go big” probably meant combining roads with rail on one proposition.

In a March 11th interview on KOKE-FM, when asked about the possibility of tying rail to roads on the bond election, Mayor Leffingwell responded: “The Transit Working Group was looking at this… we need a complete package… so, rail will probably be lumped in with roads”.

In a May 5th Statesman column Ben Wear wrote “the Mayor and other rail supporters were considering adding road spending to rail spending and putting it on a single bond proposal, especially since rail hadn’t been polling well”. Ben also reported “some Austin business executives had been asked to raise money and to campaign for urban rail, and that they’d reportedly said they could… but ONLY IF there’s some road spending thrown in”.

On June 11th the Statesman reported: “Council could add road improvements to boost appeal of urban rail bond vote in November… In 2000 roads & rail were on separate propositions, roads passed but rail failed… This time the two would be linked, potentially helping put rail over the top”. In that article the Mayor was quoted as saying “we have to be realistic about the political aspects of a rail election… we have to get enough voters to say yes”.

On June 24th the Statesman reported: “City staff proposal to City Council is $600 million for rail and $400 million for roads… with the 60/40 split reportedly a strong recommendation of business interests in exchange for their support for the 9.5 mile rail line”. On June 26th the City Council unanimously endorsed that $1 billion proposal mixing rail and roads, and on August 7th or 14th they’ll officially vote on it.

Here’s something about that $400 million for roads… How much of that is really going for roads? Look closely at the proposed “road projects”, and you’ll see that several have language about rail, such as: “facilitates rail extension… construction for rail crossing… Project Connect High Capacity Transit Corridor Studies”. Does that sound like all $400 million will actually be spent on roads?

A June 24th Statesman editorial addressed the issue of combining roads with rail. The editorial said that it’s time to stop quibbling over the proposed route and call for a bond election in November… it’s time for Austin voters to have their say. (Now here’s the important part!) They also said it would be wrong to bundle rail with roads. “The council should have enough strength of conviction to allow the two initiatives to stand on their own. Road funding should not be held hostage by rail.”

Here are my thoughts on the tactic of combining roads and rail on a single proposition: It’s very DISINGENUOUS to use this tactic, it’s a DECEITFUL effort designed to “buy” the votes of those desperate for much-needed roadways. Some might even use the term “BLACKMAIL”.

The idea that “we have to have it all, including rail” is economically unsustainable. The massive cost and debt that rail will foist on this community will make it impossible to spend money on efforts that have a real chance to help our traffic congestion. If you think taxes are high now, and that Austin is becoming unaffordable… just wait till we have to start spending billions and billions on all the rail projects proposed for this community.

Let’s split this proposition in two… (1) a $400 million road proposition, and (2) a $600 million rail proposition. Let each proposition stand on its own merits, and let the voters decide what they’re willing to pay for.

August 2014 Column
By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

Issues in the Upcoming November Elections

In addition to the importance of the National and State elections this fall, we’re looking at a watershed moment in elections on the local level. Travis County itself will have two new Commissioners Court members, including a new County Judge. Just as important, the City of Austin will transition from a 7-member City Council to an 11-member City Council. Here’s what’s important in the City of Austin… only the Mayor will be elected at-large. The rest of the City Council will be 10 Council members, each of whom will represent 1 of 10 geographical Districts.

What does this have to do with my Travis County Precinct 3?…. Several City Council Districts are also in my precinct. This is an election where not just the urban core close to downtown can vote heavily and essentially decide who will be on the City Council. This time even voters in the outlying areas of the City of Austin will have a real say in putting those who represent their interests on the City Council. Here’s what I mean. In southern Precinct 3 are at least parts of 4 City Council Districts (1, 5, 8, 9)… In northern Precinct 3 are at least parts of 2 City Council Districts (6 & 10). In essence, voters in Travis County Precinct 3 will have a say in 6 of the 10 Districts.

What about the Issues in the local elections, especially in the City of Austin election? All indications are that the key buzz word is AFFORDABILITY, followed closely by TAXES and TRAFFIC. Along with those we hear mention of “Water”, “Public Safety”, “Preserving Essential City Services”.

A July 7th American-Statesman article by Marty Toohey talks about those “top three”. He reports that a recent survey by pollster Peter Zandan actually places “snarled traffic” as the top concern for people in the Austin area. That was followed closely by “the rising cost of living”. Reasons for rising cost of living were: Rising property taxes, High cost of housing/rent, rising electric and water bills… all related to the issue of AFFORDABILITY.

A couple of other items on the local ballot will have a big impact on the “issues” we talk about above. First item… Austin Community College will have 2 bond propositions totaling $386 million, and another proposition to increase their tax rate. An American-Statesman editorial on June 19th questioned the ACC timing of putting these on the ballot this Fall. It also stated that “City leaders were hoping that ACC would hold off (on their proposals) to improve the chances of the passage of a likely light rail initiative”.

Second item… The City of Austin’s “Rail and Roads” bond proposition. As reported by Ben Wear in the Statesman on August 7th, there was a “hiccup” in drafting the final language, and that “a Texas Attorney General opinion says that combining roads and rail in one bond issue isn’t legal”. Bond language tweaks at the August 7th City Council meeting allows the City to issue $600 million in bonds for light rail, IF “future City Councils commit to spending $400 million on roads”. It’s my opinion that this bond proposition will be the main issue on the local ballot, and in all 10 City Council District races. It will affect all the issues that candidates will run on.

Most of you know my stance on rail, but I want to provide you with a couple of resources where you can research on your own. Believe it or not, these are not anti-rail websites. Go to several different sources and educate yourself about this issue so you can make an informed decision.

One website is by Bill Oakey, a retired former-government-employee accountant (self-admitted Democrat) who’s a real numbers guy. He professes that his passion is fighting for taxpayers in Travis County. Go to for detailed information and analysis of all the local issues and City Council candidates.

The other source, , whose motto is “The Latest in News & Views from the Progressive Front”, has a rather lengthy August 6th posting by Roger Baker. That posting has tons of information about this proposition, as well as the history of how we got to this moment of another rail bond election.

Taxpayers have a limited amount of money, and will be looking for City Council candidates who show they’ll provide the leadership in understanding their plight and who’ll be willing to make the hard choices to prioritize essential from non-essential spending of local taxpayer dollars. So, in addition to voting in State-wide races, be sure you go down-ballot to the local races (County, City, ACC, etc) and make your vote an informed vote.

September 2014 Column

By Commissioner Gerald Daugherty

Random Thoughts about Austin’s Proposition 1 on this November’s Election Ballot

This month I’m going to throw out a few facts, figures, statistics and a lot of questions for you to ponder over while deciding how to vote on Austin’s Proposition 1. Hopefully these will inspire you to research for all the information you can find so you can make an informed choice.

First question is… How did a 2008 rail proposal of 15.3 miles for about $600 million turn into this 2014 rail proposal of 9.5 miles for $1.4 billion? The 2008 numbers can be found in an August 1, 2008 Austin Chronicle article by Katherine Gregor. Compare the key statistics.

The 2008 route (similar to this 2014 route) also included Mueller, Seaholm, the Long Center, and all the way to the Airport. Cost per mile was about $38 million, operating costs about $22 million per year, with a ridership of 32,000/day by 2030. The 2014 route starts at Highland Mall and ends at Grove Street on Riverside Drive. Cost per mile is $147 million, operating costs about $22 million per year, with a ridership of about 18,000 per day by 2030.

Another thing to think about: This Proposition 1 is touted as only the FIRST PHASE in a new rail transit plan eventually including about 20 more miles. That would mean a cost of about $3 billion more. How much more would your property taxes increase?

Next question… How much of Proposition 1’s $400 million for roads would be spent on miles of new roads for Austin commuters? The 2014 Austin Strategic Mobility Plan describes those 6 projects.

(1) $120 million – Downtown IH35/Riverside: Access roads & interchange replacement, Urban Rail crossing over IH35. (2) $90 million – IH35 interchange replacements at Oltorf, Stassney, William Cannon. (3) $81.5 million – SH71 Direct Access to the Airport, plus structure for future rail extension. (4) $34 million – US183/East Riverside Interchange, plus structure for future rail extension. (5) $30 million – Regional Transportation Management Center (6) $44.5 million – Studies on 8 roadways, several of them for future rail extension.

Ask yourself… Are these Regionally Significant Roadway Projects that will relieve congestion, as promised in the bond language? Are we getting any miles of new lanes for our congested roads around Austin?

Let’s Go Austin says we’ll have up to 1 million new cars on our roads by 2040, and that this Urban Rail’s Phase 1 will have about 10,000 riders per day by 2030. Extrapolate that to 20,000 per day by 2040. Of those 20,000 rail riders, about 10,000 probably previously rode the bus… so are the 10,000 new urban rail riders worth $1.4 billion? And, what do we do about the 980,000 additional cars added to our already congested roadways?

In June of 2012 Mayor Leffingwell called off plans for a November, 2012 rail bond election because he said the city should not ask voters to approve $275 million debt for the first segment of urban rail while so many questions linger. With other expected bond proposals he said “the potential for financial strain on Austin taxpayers is deeply worrisome to me”. Does that still hold true today?

The Mayor also published 30 questions he said needed to be answered before proceeding with urban rail. Keeping in mind that this November’s bond proposition is touted as the 1st Phase of more to come, ask yourself if this sample of those questions have been answered.

How much will construction of Phase 2 cost?
How will construction costs of Phase 2 and subsequent expansions be financed?
How much are Phase 2 and subsequent phases expected to cost to operate annually?
How much are subsequent expansions expected to cost on a per mile basis?
How will capital and operational costs of those later phases be financed?
What will it cost to ride Phase 1 and subsequent phases?
What are the ridership projections for Phase 2 and subsequent expansions?
When would Phase 2 and subsequent expansions be expected to begin?
Will the system help reduce traffic congestion Downtown and outside of Downtown?

Here are a couple of final question to think about: Of the 49 City Council District candidates who have stated their position on the City of Austin’s Proposition 1, why have 44 of them (that’s 90%) said they will vote NO on this urban rail plan? What do they know that causes them to oppose what the current City Council supports?

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