The Austin City Council didn’t want to move the council and mayoral election to November, out of a fear that incumbents would be hurt by the larger turnout and closer attention paid by voters. Of course, they didn’t say it like that, instead spinning a tale of concern that voters would be “overwhelmed” by the longer ballot. Yes, they really are that asinine – makes you want to run on down and get an overpriced condo overlooking Lady Bird Lake, doesn’t it? And if that’s not enough to scare you off, surely the crushing small-country’s-GDP-sized debt will. The city council, though, thinks they can overcome their own ineptitude and flaws to woo you to Austin with promises of urban light rail.
With that in mind, the council has a bond package they want to put to a vote, $275 million to build their train. The idea was to have this on this November’s ballot – though now, skittish Mayor Lee Leffingwell is rethinking that scheme. Oh, sure, it appears as though the proposal won’t be ready in time, Capital Metro thinks waiting for the money is just fine, blah blah blah. The timing of this is kind of suspicious. November is looking more and more likely to turn out more Republicans and the bane of the city council’s existence, independent voters. $275 million for a historically unpopular mass transit initiative is probably not going to attract a lot of favorability in such a climate. Leffingwell also stated that he thinks voters will demand answers to certain questions, and the city just doesn’t have those answers yet (gee, I bet ridership and cost-per-mile/rider is among them). So, postpone they will!
Austin is home to smart growth policies that have gone terribly awry. This is the city that said “If we don’t build it, they won’t come.” Anyone who has driven MoPac at rush hour can tell you, that plan clearly didn’t work. We do need transportation solutions, but we need to focus on what the majority of commuters use, and learn lessons from other cities’ failures.
Delayed is not derailed, as the KVUE article points out, and Leffingwell is clear that he believes rail will save us all. But Austinites – and indeed, Texans, for this may well already be in your own city’s basket of bad ideas – need to be aware of what is happening, and what the concerns about rail are. Trains may look cool and have a place in the American zeitgeist, but that certainly doesn’t make them a silver bullet for our transportation woes.