This election I voted “no” on Proposition 1 - the “GO BIG mobility bond” - also known as the “Transportation Bond.” As councilmember from Austin’s District #1 I voted to not support the bond when it was presented to city council. I want to explain my reasons and I hope you’ll consider them.
You have to decide your position on this important issue. No matter your position on the bond, please remember to “go down the ballot” and vote your preference on the “GO BIG” Transportation Bond.
My “no” vote on the Transportation Bond is based on 5 objections:
1. Makes Austin’s automobile traffic worse - Managing automobile traffic is Austin’s most pressing transportation problem and the Bond will make traffic congestion worse.
2. Financially flawed – The real costs of the Bond are unknown, the property tax impact on Austinites is unknown, and this Bond comes really close to using up all of Austin’s borrowing capacity.
3. A flawed process created a flawed proposal – The Bond is an “old Austin” proposal rooted in the old at-large council districts. The Bond issue was defined with limited input from some council districts, no input from other districts, and is a “one size fits all” approach to Austin’s varied neighborhoods.
4. Damages Austin’s local businesses and Austin’s unique character – The Corridor Improvement Projects will force closure of our local businesses and turn those properties over to real estate developers. We should learn from what happened to the El Azteca restaurant. It is a real possibility the same thing might happen to small local Austin businesses on all the corridors.
5. District #1’s needs are not considered – District #1 has specific transportation needs, just like each of the 10 new council districts. One size does not fit all.
Let me explain more about each of the 5 reasons.
1) Makes Austin’s automobile traffic worse - Managing automobile traffic is Austin’s most pressing transportation problem and the Bond will make traffic congestion worse.
The projects outlined in the Bond will increase congestion. Yes, increase congestion. Those projects will reduce car lanes throughout the city, especially on key thoroughfares including Airport Boulevard, Lamar Boulevard North and South, and Burnet Road. The Bond will cause more traffic back-ups because the projects will remove existing turning lanes as well as the center turning lane (a.k.a. “chicken lane”). Automobile capacity will also be reduced by creating more bus-only lanes on arterial streets during peak traffic times.
In fact, very little funding in the Bond is for actual road construction or repair. Most of the money borrowed will be for engineering studies, sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, bus shelters and cosmetics.
The Bond does not address transit options for commuters before they drive into the city.
2) Financially flawed – The real costs of the GO BIG Transportation Bond are unclear, the property tax impact on Austinites is unknown, and this bond proposition comes really close to using up all of Austin’s borrowing capacity.
The work described in the Corridor Improvement Projects is a key example of how unclear the Bond’s costs are. City staff stated that just the make-over of the corridors will cost triple the claimed amount: $1.5 billion versus the $482 million in the Bond proposal.
Yes, $1.5 billion for the Corridor Improvement Projects alone. Yet the entire Bond is presented as costing only $720M.
The impact on individual taxpayers is unknown. Property taxes will go up to pay for the Bond, but by how much? Supporters of the Bond state the property taxes on an “average” Austin residential property will increase by $5 per month. Opponents of the Bond, using information like that cited above, calculate that average Austinite’s property tax increase will be more than 5 times that amount.
Honestly, I don’t know the tax impact.
The Bond is a poor use of Austin’s borrowing power. Austinites must be careful when we borrow money and commit future residents to tax increases to pay back the borrowed money. Sound fiscal policy dictates that we borrow for things that justify a property tax increase. I don’t believe this Bond justifies increasing property taxes, regardless of the amount of the increase.
The bond comes really close to using up all of Austin’ borrowing capacity. Fiscal responsibility limits how much Austinites can borrow. So does Texas law. The Bond will significantly restrict our borrowing for a long time to come.
3) A flawed process created a flawed proposal – The GO BIG Bond is an “old Austin” proposal. By that I mean the proposal is rooted in the at-large council districts. I was a member of the grassroots coalition which worked to establish 10 geographic council districts. The at-large system was flawed because most of Austin was under-represented when decisions were made. The center-city decided what was best for the entire city.
The GO BIG Bond was defined in much the same way: limited input from some council districts, no input from other districts, and a “one size fits all” approach to Austin’s varied neighborhoods. The Bond will not address the traffic congestion experienced by District #1 residents, will affect District #1 renters and homeowners financially, yet District #1 did not participate in defining the Bond.
The voices shaping the Bond were limited. The Bond was designed by a “coalition” of organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals. However the “coalition” was not inclusive, was not transparent, and received little community input prior to presenting the Bond proposal to the Council.
Definition of the Bond was rushed. The Bond was defined and designed in 6 months. The city’s usual practice is to allow 12 to 18 months before putting a Bond before the voters.
The separate proposals in the Bond are bundled together unnecessarily. The Bond bundles 3 or 4 distinct proposals into a single “all or nothing” decision.
The Bond ignores the diversity of need in Austin’s neighborhoods and districts. Austin is being remade by "new planning principles." These urban design principles rely on modes of transportation other than automobiles. The Bond spreads the principles of “fewer automobiles” throughout the community, in a "one size fits all" approach. It seems obvious to me that Webberville Road is not Cameron Road and equally obvious is that different solutions are required for different roadways and thoroughfares.
4) Damages Austin’s local businesses and Austin’s unique character – The Corridor Improvement Projects will force closure of our local businesses and turn those properties over to real estate developers. Austin’s character is rooted in the small local businesses. The construction proposed by the Bond will restrict access, damage those local businesses, and change Austin’s character for the worse.
Let me give an example – El Azteca Restaurant. I want to share what happened to El Azteca.
El Azteca has been an iconic restaurant on the East Side for 53 years. I know the owners, the Guerra family. I’ve eaten at their restaurant for decades. Their business was severely impacted by what looks like one of the “Corridor Improvement Projects.” For months, street construction disrupted traffic on E. 7th Street, restricting access to the restaurant. Then their parking was reduced by street “improvements.” Street improvements similar to the “new mobility” principles in the Bond.
As a result, Austin lost a family business and I lost a favorite restaurant. What will be built on the property? Perhaps, luxury living units like the ones being built on E. 6th Street.
The GO BIG Bond will duplicate what happened to El Azteca throughout the city. The Corridor Improvement Projects will hamper access to local businesses during construction. When completed, those projects will change traffic flow and limit parking. All of which will damage local businesses and change the surrounding neighborhoods. The result? More of our local businesses will be driven off those corridors and their properties sold to developers.
A vote against the Bond may slow what happened to the El Azteca restaurant from happening to more local Austin businesses on other Corridors.
5) District #1’s needs are not considered – District #1 has specific transportation needs, just like each of the 10 new council districts. The GO BIG Bond’s approach of “one size fits all” does not fit in District #1.
I don’t claim to have a complete list of District #1’s transportation needs. I want to consult with planning experts, individuals who live in the district, and transit experts to make a list of their needs, but I’ve heard and support some specific ideas. For example, District #1 could partner with CapMetro for rapid transit on 969. District #1 would also benefit from serious consideration of the “Green Line” from Manor into Austin.
These are just two ideas. I am open to additional ideas coming from District #1 and from all Austinites to define a transportation bond proposal to take to a vote.
Those are my 5 reasons for voting “no” on the GO BIG Transportation Bond proposition.
Conclusion: Austin has a traffic crisis and city hall, with the help of the community, has to address it. We must make sure our actions address the problem: traffic congestion. We need whole-city solutions addressing the specific needs of all 10 council districts. Prop 1 is an “old Austin” proposal. I was elected under 10-1 to serve all of Austin, not just District 1, and certainly not just center-city.
I have voted “no” on Prop 1, because it will make traffic worse, it costs too much, its impact on property taxes is unknown, and because it wasn’t defined in the spirit of 10-1. I will continue to work with the community and council to define effective actions to address traffic congestion in our fair city.
Finally, please, no matter your position on the bond, remember to “go down the ballot” and vote your preference on the “GO BIG” transportation bond.