City Council to take action on Urban Rail project - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

City Council to take action on Urban Rail project

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Austin city council will be taking action Thursday night regarding a $1 billion transportation bond proposal.

"All over town, the biggest issue is transportation. I hear that constantly," said Austin Mayor Pro-Tem, Sheryl Cole. "A big problem calls for a big solution."

About 110 people move to Austin every day. It's a challenge that's not going away anytime soon.

According to data from the U.S. Census, by 2040, 4 million people will be living in Austin.

Cole added, "We're considering a package that consists of both roads and rail. Forty percent of it is for roads and 60 percent of it is for rail."

It's being called a "comprehensive transportation solution."

Urban rail planners are proposing about 9.5 miles of track should run from Highland Mall to the north, through UT's campus and downtown, southeast across Riverside Drive and stop at Grove Boulevard, where a new ACC campus is under construction.

Councilman Mike Martinez wants to eliminate the Highland Mall section and have the rail end at the airport.

"Most communities that extended to an airport they've done that as a second or third step of an extension, but usually not as the first extension," said Urban Project Rail Lead, Kyle Keahey.

The price tag for all this is a reduced amount of about $1 billion.

"We want to present the most affordable package to the city and we have to consider our bonding capacity," said Cole.

The plan is to get the federal government to pay half of the cost. After a bond election, taxpayers would be responsible for covering the remaining amount.

Cole explained, "Assuming that we send this to the voters and the voters approve it, it's still doesn't mean that we're going to spend the money, because if we do not get the federal matching funds, it does not go through and that is part of the ballot language."

City leaders estimate 18,000 people will ride the current route every day, taking about 8,000 cars off the road.

City Council Member, Laura Morrison, said, "The whole Strategic Mobility Plan, that is really talking about, not only the locally preferred alternative, you know, the rail, but also a proposal from staff for a certain number of roads that have regional significance."

Operations and maintenance costs are estimated to be about $22.5 million each year for the 9.5 mile rail project, which would be paid for with existing Capital Metro sales tax and passenger fares.

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