From John Langmore:
Dear APT - -
Why I’m Voting Yes on Prop 1
After numerous frustrating debates with opponents of Austin’s roads + rail Proposition 1 and reading a number of very misleading e-mails circulating about Prop 1, I felt obliged to correct those misconceptions and offer some facts about Prop 1.
I hope you will forward this to everyone who is interested in this issue and plans to vote.
I’ve tried to be concise but the issue is complex. My sincere hope is that if you spend the 8 minutes it takes to read this you will consider it time well spent, especially given what’s at stake. But I’ve also captured Proposition 1’s many benefits in bullet points at the end in case you simply want short and sweet facts.
How We Got Where We are Today - a brief but important bit of history
In 2000, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) began a concerted effort to address the fact that Texas cities had become unacceptably congested and the State had drastically inadequate resources to address that congestion. Since then things have only gotten worse. Texans have consistently expressed no interest in raising the gas tax, the primary source of roadway funding. Toll roads have proven equally controversial. The fight to generate financial resources for more roads has been valiant but to date has not produced much fruit at either the state or federal level and is largely why we are faced with paying $400 million for needed roadways out of local property taxes.
But as we continue trying to convince the public to make the necessary investment in additional roadways, those working on transportation issues are and have for years been thinking about how to not only increase the supply of roads but at the same time decrease the demand on the roads we already have. This is critical because as the Texas Transportation Institute recently stated, “Central Texas cannot build its way out of congestion”! (exclamation mine) There’s not enough land, the phenomena of “induced demand” means more people use roadways the second they’re not congested bringing them ultimately to the point of congestion again and we simply cannot afford it – for instance, modestly improving I-35 between Hays and Williamson county is estimated to cost $4.255 BILLION and Texas has $5 BILLION of unmet transportation needs each year. I hope readers accept that we have no option but to tackle the problem of congestion by extracting more from our existing roadways in addition to adding to them where we can . . . . just what is proposed in Prop 1.
As Envision Central Texas, Imagine Austin and the years of study underlying those efforts taught us, one important way to reduce demand on existing roadways is to plan growth such that it doesn’t force everyone to drive an automobile whenever they want to get from Point A to Point B. This becomes imperative when you study what is required to transport the 2 million additional people projected to move here between now and 2040. If we attempt to absorb those new residents as we have in the past by building housing beyond where people live and work today and give those new residents only roads for commuting, we will drown in congestion! Yet, this is exactly the outcome of what opponents to Prop 1 are advocating.
Those opponents will not tell voters what roadways they want to build or how much those will cost because they know Central Texans would be mortified at the cost and consequence of accommodating our growth exclusively through sprawling suburbs and road-only solutions to transportation. I challenge anyone to extract from the opposition how they intend to move millions of additional Central Texans exclusively on roads and how on earth they’d pay for it even if they could. Talk about high property taxes! Their website says their solution is “improving existing roadways with greater capacity and connectivity” (http://www.norailtax.com/real-solutions
). That is all they offer about new roadways in their competing plan! Compare that to the details offered for the Project Connect plan that Prop 1 supports (http://www.projectconnect.com/
). All the other initiatives the opposition disingenuously advocates such as carpooling, expanded bus rapid transit, encouraging staggered work hours are all being pursued and implemented today - except perhaps their proposal to eliminate congestion by using more “jitneys” (that’s a quote from their website). They are simply trying to confuse voters, not enlighten them.
The Logic Behind Rail
So if one accepts that to continue prospering we have to support a form of growth with a corresponding transportation network that moves as many people as possible within the existing system (in addition to strategic expansions where cost-effective), what does that system look like? First, for those that desire it, and there are plenty (“young people continue to spurn the suburbs for urban living” NYT October 20, 2014), you offer them a place they want to live that is vibrant and compact and doesn’t require a long commute and an automobile to meet every daily need.
Austin has done a great job accommodating growth in downtown and in mixed-use developments like Meuller and the Triangle over the last ten years. What we haven’t done is create the transportation system to support that dense development, much less what is being built for the future.
This is where getting the most out of our current road network becomes critical. To envision the added capacity you can extract from a given roadway, think how many more people you can move when each individual driver is not also packing with them their own internal combustion engine, three empty seats and a trunk. An arterial street like Trinity Street, where the proposed rail will run can only carry 450 people/hour at the average of 1.2 persons per automobile, but that same street can carry over 2,000 people per hour in a train – an increased capacity on that street of 444%!
The Truth About Proposition 1
Generally speaking, the foregoing is the foundation for the almost unanimous institutional and elected official support for rail by those that have worked for years to solve our congestion problem and keep Austin livable and economically vibrant – e.g. the Sierra Club, virtually every Chamber of Commerce, the Statesman, the Chronicle, the Real Estate Council of Austin, the Congress for the New Urbanism, the American Institute of Architects (Austin), Mayor Leffingwell and the whole of City Council, Senator Watson, Congressman Doggett, etc.; and why virtually no institutions oppose Prop 1 if they have any cause for their existence beyond simply fighting rail.
But beyond laying the intellectual groundwork for building rail in a growing city like Austin, it’s also important to dispel some of the common misconceptions about Prop 1.
The loudest advocacy against the East Riverside/Highland corridor chosen for the FIRST line in a new regional rail system comes from those advocating a line on Lamar/Guadalupe almost identical to a route rejected by voters (albeit narrowly) fourteen years ago.
The Central Corridor Advisory Group assembled by Mayor Leffingwell chose the proposed route using the following criteria: Congestion, Growth Potential, Current Ridership, Future Ridership Potential, Connectivity, Consistency with City of Austin growth plans, among a few others. This criteria was specifically used to make the project competitive for future Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding. East Riverside and Highland unequivocally came out on top by that analysis. Furthermore, the FTA just spent almost $30 million to support Cap Metro’s BRT lines on Lamar/Guadalupe. The FTA would be justified in refusing to fund a rail route that displaced their investment in BRT before the BRT system had even been fully implemented. Furthermore, the Lamar/Guadalupe proponents continuously refuse to acknowledge the disruption that taking Lamar/Guadalupe to two lanes would cause these heavily trafficked corridors. As a starter line it simply does not make sense by any measure to put rail on Lamar/Guadalupe.
Lastly, just to be clear, Highland is an exceptional corridor. It currently has 46,000 people living and 97,000 working within half a mile of the route. The route passes through the heart of downtown (where 60,000 people work daily), the 28 acres set to be redeveloped along Waller Creek, the new medical school under construction with its new teaching hospital, UT and on to the new development at Highland that will not long after rail opens have 1,200 living units and 25,000 ACC students.
The Prop 1 opponents repeatedly make the following claims:
Costs $1.38 billion or $27,000/foot – The total cost is indeed $1.38 billion (or roughly $22 per month property tax increase on an average priced home) for a 9.5 mile line and it equals $27K/foot when you divide the two. The critical fact this leaves out is that Austin is only being asked to pay for ½ of the cost of the line in Prop 1. The other half would be paid for by the FTA out of money Texans have already sent to Washington in the form of gas tax. The ONLY issue with the $600 million from the FTA is whether or not we’ll claim that money or, do we vote no on Prop 1 and let it go to some less deserving city. Most importantly, compare this cost to the estimated $4.255 BILLION needed to modestly improve I-35 between Hays and Williamson County or the $37,000/linear foot it cost to improve 635 in Dallas. The alternative to rail that opponents are understandably afraid to articulate is much more expensive and less effective! They simply won’t accept that we have to do things differently.
Cost $150,000/rider – This is simply ludicrous! That figure would be accurate only if the line were open for a single day. This grossly misleading calculation takes the cost of a 50 - 70 year capital investment and allocates it to a single day’s ridership. Jim Skaggs, the leading opponent of Prop 1 is paid over $100,000/year as the Chairman of Alamo Industries, a company that manufactures equipment for roadway maintenance. I can guarantee you he would be fired from that job in a New York minute if he used that same analysis to evaluate a new plant for Alamo Industries. That would be the same as allocating the cost of a plant designed to manufacture equipment for 50 years to a single day’s production. You’d never build a plant that way! He knows that’s disingenuous but he doesn’t care and he doesn’t care if he leads Austin voters over a cliff into a congestion filled mire because he doesn’t even live in Austin.
Opponents consistently cite 9,000 riders per day as though that is THE ridership. First, the estimate is 18,000 to 20,000 boardings per day. Each boarding represents a trip not taken in an automobile, it does not necessarily represent half a rider. What we care about are trips not taken in a car. Further, that is a conservative estimate for 2030, seven to eight years after the line opens. The system can grow SIX-fold over that daily ridership before reaching capacity – that’s potentially 120,000 trips not taken in a car every day! Lastly, here’s the percent by which these light rail lines exceeded opening year projections: Charlotte +53%, Denver +29%, Dallas +20%, St. Louis +58%, Phoenix +80% and Salt Lake +35%.
The other point my respected opponent, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, regularly makes is that no one is going to use a rail system and he cites the Red Line’s ridership of roughly 2,3 00 daily trips as “proof” of that fact. What he fails to mention is that the Red Line’s ridership has more than quadrupled since opening and it is effectively at capacity with that ridership as it is standing room only during rush hour. He also fails to mention the on-time performance is over 95%. Compare that to I-35 and Mopac if you want to understand one of the true benefits of rail, i.e. its travel time reliability. Furthermore, the FTA and TxDOT have provided Cap Metro the funding necessary to double the Red Line’s capacity.
Claiming that no one will ride rail flies in the face of virtually every statistic about transit ridership:
o In the US in 2013 transit use grew at almost 4 times the rate of auto use (1.1% vs. .3%);
o Since 1995 public transit use in the US is up 37.2% vs population growth of 20.3% and vehicle miles traveled of 23%;
o Driving by young people decreased 23% between 2001 and 2009 (and see earlier headline above).
Of course people will use rail. They already are and doing more so daily.
Finally, here is my bullet list of the reasons you should vote YES on Prop 1 - -
• As the 4th most congested city in the country that grows on average by over 100 people a day, we absolutely have to do something to keep congestion from getting worse (surely we all agree on that – now we just have to agree on what to do);
• With Prop 1 we get the first phase of a planned regional transit system for 50 cents on the dollar (we won’t issue the construction debt if the feds don’t first agree to match our local funds);
• We need an alternative to single occupant vehicles because the young prefer it and we have the highest percentage of millennials of any city in the country, the elderly need it when they can no longer drive and rail transit improves our air-quality and our quality of life;
• Capital Metro and the City of Austin, together with significant public input, have worked on this plan for almost three years with the support of a team of experts that have over 140 years of cumulative experience conducting 95 transit studies across the country for $20 billion of projects in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Sacramento, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Atlanta.
• We get $400 million of critically needed roadway projects for I-35, 183, 71 and 1826 with studies to prepare for future improvements to 360, 620, 2222, 1826 and Parmer Lane;
• Prop 1 is supported by over 40 organizations from the Sierra Club to the Austin Chamber of Commerce as well as by city, state and federal elected officials;
• If we vote no the $600 million of federal money we’re requesting will unequivocally go to some other less-deserving city to support their rail system; and lastly –
• The opposition has no plan, much less vision, for your future. They won’t acknowledge that roads are just as or more expensive than rail and they will never tell you how much their plan will cost and what it will do to your property taxes and the cost of doing nothing GREATLY exceeds the average $22/month this plan costs Austinites.
Thanks for taking the time to read this!
And in case this makes it out to people I don’t know - - which I hope it does - - for the sake of context this note was written by someone that was the Policy Director to the Texas House Transportation Committee, ran a transportation consulting business for ten years, spent 4.5 years on the Capital Metro board, served as the Vice Chair of the Transit Working Group which developed the Project Connect regional plan, served on the Mayor’s Central Corridor Advisory Committee that developed the Phase 1 of urban rail, served on the Executive Committee of Envision Central Texas and was part of the Citizens’ Task Force for Austin’s “Imagine Austin” comprehensive plan.