From now through November 8th, Austinites who scroll to the end of the ballot will vote on $720 million in new debt to fund local transportation projects. Since traffic is such a universally recognized problem within Austin, it is important to take a step back and consider this proposal separately from the emotional influence of Austin’s dire need for traffic congestion relief. Here are four key facts about the debt package that proponents have been neglecting to share.
Fact #1: The debt will cost homeowners much more than the oft-cited $58 per year
Various publications and city officials alike have repeated multiple times that the $720 million bond proposal will cost the average homeowner around $58 per year. Officials are banking on the assumption that because some of the bonds will be paid off by the time the final $240 million is issued, they do not have to include its effect in their analysis. The real cost is around $125 per year for an average homeowner.
Fact #2: In the aggregate, commuters will lose drivable lanes through this plan
Many are mistaken that the proposal is purely a road bond – it isn’t. Mayor Adler’s so-called “Smart Corridor” plan includes added infrastructure for buses and bicycle lanes. In total, the bond builds 14 miles of new drivable lanes – but eliminates 15 miles of drivable lanes to accommodate buses and bicycles. Drivers will also lose 20 miles worth of center left-turn lanes in favor of medians and U-turns.
Fact #3: All of the bond’s features can be pursued without adding debt
The City of Austin already pays for road improvements, bicycle lanes, and urban trails through the general budget. Real traffic congestion relief can easily be achieved without adding new debt… if the city wanted to. Solutions such as traffic signal recalibration and updating require little to no construction, improve traffic flow, and are relatively inexpensive, yet officials are saying that we need to add debt in order to make improvements.
Fact #4: Widespread construction projects will freeze traffic and threaten small businesses
Regardless of the project’s long-term effects, construction on major thoroughfares that will ultimately decrease drivable lanes will create a nightmarish traffic logjam in the short-term. Because of this, small businesses located on such corridors (who operate on typically small margins already threatened by rising property tax burdens) face the very real threat of losing their business while their streets are under construction. Small businesses, from which Austin derives much of its character, rely heavily on accessibility to maintain profit margins.
Considering the price tag of this bond package (which is closer to $1.8 billion after interest), voters should carefully consider what they ought to expect in exchange for their hard-earned tax dollars.