Urban rail proposal is best of bad choices

Transportation: It’s an issue that invariably sets the teeth on edge in this town and one for which, until now, no serious solution has been enacted. As the roads clog up with ever-greater traffic and the public transportation system continues on in mediocrity, grinding along in city traffic or on the Red Line’s freight-train rails, Austinites steam about the lack of high-quality options for getting around town, underscoring the need for some sort of action. 

We say “until now” because it is once again possible that urban rail, which notably failed on a Drag route back in 2000, could win the approval of voters this November. The route that has been proposed was recently endorsed by both the Capital Metro Board of Directors and the Austin City Council. Cap Metro will operate the line while the city will own it. If placed on the November ballot (a near certainty) and approved, the line will start on Riverside Drive, cross the river on a newly built bridge, make three stops on campus and then finally end up at the future ACC Highland.

We have established in previous editorials that we do not agree with the currently proposed path, at least in comparison with the alternatives. While we appreciate the fact that UT students will not be left out completely, we also know that they, as well as other potential riders, would be better served by a Guadalupe/Lamar line, which would run through already dense areas, than by a line plotted through areas where density is projected to exist at some future date. 

Proponents of the current plan hope that the Federal Transit Administration will fund half of the $1.38 billion price tag and counter density arguments by saying that the agency would be loath to put up money for a project that would run side-by-side with the new MetroRapid bus line. That may well be true, and it is unfortunate that greater planning couldn’t have been exercised to reserve the Guadalupe/Lamar route for urban rail. But given the current state of affairs and keeping in mind that 14 years have passed since the last viable effort at urban rail was put forward, we offer our grudging support for the current plan.