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City Council votes to put urban rail on November ballot

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The vote to put the $1.4 billion urban rail project on the November ballot resulted in a unanimous "yes" at City Council Thursday.

Under the plan, $600 million would go to light rail and the other $400 million to road projects, like improving ramps on and off I-35 - something opponents like James Skaggs call a 'bait and switch'

"They are trying to blackmail voters. Those that know they need roads dearly and would not vote for rail otherwise but might under the total combined referendum. So yeah it's a bait and switch. It's smoke and mirror whatever you want to call it," Skaggs said.

The plan is to get the federal government to pay half the cost and the taxpayers would be responsible for the rest.

Skaggs says he expected this proposal would end up on the ballot. He was against the previous rail proposal in 2000 and he says this one is even worse.

"This train will result in no decreased congestion. Zero. It will increase congestion. So I don't know if they believe it or if they're just trying to politically sell a program because it will not improve congestion, no way," he said.

The proposed 9 and a half mile project route will start at Grove and end at Highland Mall. 16 stops are planned, including the convention center, the Capitol and the new medical center.

UT grad Rob Parsons spoke before the city council Thursday. He's glad the council went the way they did -- especially since transportation investments are usually long-term...if this proposal passes, trains should be up and running by 2021.

"We need to start now. If we're making investments over the next 30 to 50 years and it's not something we can keep putting off. We had the bond package fail in 2000 and I think 14 years later is too long to go without that kind of serious investment," Parsons said.

Opponents like Skaggs say the light rail won't help traffic problems at all...he doesn't think Austin even has the environment to support rail in the foreseeable future.

But Parsons is optimistic.

"It's a good mix of connecting key points together, key destinations, reaching ridership and Riverside corridor. Then also trying to pull in drivers and commuters off 35 and convert them over to transportation and get them off the congested highways," Parsons said.

The last rail proposal failed back in 2000.

Mayor Leffingwell said if this fails, it could be another 10 years before another plan goes to voters.

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