AURA is opposed to Proposition 1, the roads-and-rail bond proposal set to go before Austin voters on November 4. But that’s about all that is correct in a full-page advertisement in this week’s Austin Chronicle paid for by the new political action committee Let’s Go Austin.
The advertisement from the Let’s Go Austin PAC tries to sell Proposition 1 as a plan to combat “traffic congestion.” But as acknowledged by Project Connect lead consultant Kyle Keahey, Proposition 1 will do almost nothing to reduce congestion for those who continue to drive.
The ad also continues a pattern of Project Connect supporters trying to mislead Austin voters regarding the relationship of Proposition 1 to a supposed “plan to create a citywide rail transit system.” As reported by Ben Wear in the Austin American-Statesman, Project Connect spent $20,000 earlier this year to distribute flyers that conjured “a tangle of rail lines” but incredibly “did not show the proposal” that is actually on the table. Proposition 1 would provide partial funding for a single rail line. Due to its poor location, that line could not be much extended in the future, and we expect the line would have low ridership and would incur large operating costs—outcomes that would likely derail any hopes of proceeding to build a larger system.
Packaged with these misleading statements is a crass effort to smear or ignore the many Austinites who oppose Proposition 1. The PAC’s ad lists only three groups as “opposing” Proposition 1: AURA, the Travis County Republican Party, and Austin Tea Party. But there are others, too, such as Our Rail, that like AURA are supportive of wise mass transit investments yet openly oppose Proposition 1.
And sometimes in politics, a group’s silence says a lot. While a few area Democratic Party clubs have endorsed Proposition 1, last month the Travis County Democratic Party had to use procedural maneuvers to prevent a vote of its precinct chairs against endorsement. Furthermore, Austin Neighborhoods Council has emphatically refused to endorse Proposition 1, in part because no “comprehensive regional transportation plan” exists and because “the Project Connect planning process has been unduly influenced by political considerations, ignored public input, [and] compromised with highway projects that are entirely unrelated to urban rail.”
Although opposition to Proposition 1 appears to be deep and widespread among Austinites, the Let’s Go Austin PAC tries to say that opponents are few—and then it stoops lower. KUT’s Wells Dunbar wrote that the PAC’s ad was “slagging” AURA by making it appear as though we are the only opponents not hailing from the political right wing. We agree with Dunbar.
Members of AURA—just named ”Best Grassroots Group” for 2014 by Chronicle readers—have been intimately involved in promoting a better urban rail plan for the past two years, and they have been pushing from the beginning to try to make the Project Connect process work. But having seen that process firsthand, some feel compelled to speak out strongly against Proposition 1.
“Proposition 1 will force Capital Metro to spend an additional several million dollars annually out of its already limited budget to operate a low-ridership rail line, weakening its ability to maintain and expand service in heavily used transit corridors. That funding shortfall will force Capital Metro to finance new bus purchases with debt, something the agency only does as a last resort,” says AURA board member Amy Hartman.
“The city’s proposal to spend $1 billion doubling down on highways and highway-oriented urban rail is worse than doing nothing,” says AURA member Marcus Denton. “By burdening the city with an expensive-to-operate yet poorly located line, Proposition 1 would be a huge setback for walkable urbanism in Austin.”
“Let’s Go Austin is a popup PAC that will be dissolved after Proposition 1 is defeated in November, but AURA will still be here advocating for abundant housing, environmental protection, and effective transportation options in our community,” says AURA board member Susan Somers.
“I am looking forward to November 5—the day after Election Day—when the newly chosen 10-1 City Council members will be ready to leave the station. The lame-duck council will be surprised to learn that the alternative to their bad rail is not ‘fail’ but, rather, new faces seeking honest answers and striving to give Austinites transit we can use,” says AURA board member Steven Yarak.
For these reasons, AURA continues to call on all Austinites who desire more and better public transportation in our city to vote “NO” on Proposition 1.
AURA is a grassroots urbanist organization focused on building an Austin for everyone by improving land use and transportation through policy analysis, public involvement, and political engagement.