Leave it to Austin’s single-minded central planners to pitch a transportation plan that is both rooted in the past and a burden on future generations.
While the newly unveiled proposal is still in its infancy, it aims to bring 18th-century technology back with a vengeance by adding and expanding fixed rail systems. That could include upgrading the city’s current MetroRail Red Line, expanding the system with a new Green Line to Manor, and even building 1.6 miles of underground subway running along Fourth Street between Guadalupe and Trinity. Depending on how many of these different ideas make it into the final version of the plan, the total cost to taxpayers could run as high as $10.3 billion.
To soften the blow, Cap Metro believes it can secure federal grants to help with up to 40 percent of the costs, assuming Austin voters first agree to finance the other 60 percent through a tax increase election, a transportation bond, or other new taxes and fees. For tomorrow’s Texans, that means contending with higher taxes, more debt and even tougher affordability climate.
Even if Austinites agree to shoulder their 60 percent share, almost none of the projects would come online for several years. That’s a long time to wait, especially with the transportation revolution right at the door.
Already, exciting new technologies like autonomous vehicles and aerial autonomous vehicles are being tested in Texas. Uber Elevate just announced the start of “demonstration flights” this year for its air taxi service, with a commercial debut in Dallas and elsewhere by 2023. Bell, an aerospace and defense company headquartered in Fort Worth, recently unveiled an urban air taxi of its own and an Autonomous Pod Transport, “an unmanned aerial vehicle or commercial-grade drone that can carry cargo or packages.” The company is set to get the former to market in the next few years and the latter by the mid-2020s.
There are countless other companies out there testing and preparing to launch entirely new modes of public transportation that will fundamentally transform how we get from Point A to Point B. That raises a serious question: Why spend billions on old, outdated technology when newer, better options are almost here? Especially when Austinites clearly don’t want it. Let’s not forget that Austin voters rejected central planners’ fixed rail plans in both 2000 and 2014. There’s not much different about this latest proposal, except its astronomically high price tag.
Austinites aren’t alone in thinking that fixed rail is a bad idea.
From 1988 to 2000, 79 percent of light rail elections across the U.S. were defeated even though proponents outspent opponents by a margin of 12 to 1. And every city in the U.S. that has a light rail system has defeated attempts (sometimes on multiple occasions) to expand it.
Austin’s transportation system is a train wreck, as anyone stuck on Interstate 35 can attest. But the solution to our traffic nightmare isn’t what central planners are pitching. Fixed rail is an idea stuck in the past. We need newer, better ideas to get commuters moving again.