Austin activists introduce $4.4 billion transportation project to influence 2020 transportation bond

Aisling Ayers

Three Austin transit activists introduced a nearly $4.4 billion transportation project last week that proposes changes to reduce congestion around campus and the
Austin area.

 Co-author Susan Somers said the plan, Wheel Deal, includes proposals for 1,000 new sidewalk miles, seven new MetroRapid lines and a fund to improve shade coverage. She said activists drafted the new plan to influence the city’s 2020 transportation bond.

Somers, Austin’s Urban Transportation Commissioner, said the plan also expanded upon Capital Metro’s high capacity transit plan known as Project Connect. CapMetro’s project includes proposals for a light rail, known as Blue Line, that runs through east Riverside and an Orange Line, a light rail with a dedicated pathway on parts of Guadalupe and Lamar streets.

Somers said a light rail or other high-capacity transit vehicle would improve current congestion issues near campus. 

“You would see transit that comes, stops and goes again, and it’ll be going faster past the congestion on the Drag,” Somers said. “I think it’s going to be transformative for students having a lot of access (and) traveling throughout our city.”

Somers said the plan’s proposed 342 miles of new protected bike lanes would also make biking safer for students. 

Mechanical engineering freshman Deborah Lin said bike safety around campus is her biggest transportation problem. She said she often takes alternate bike routes to avoid certain road conditions.

“Sometimes there are no defined bike lanes,” Lin said. “I never know if I’m supposed to ride on the road or the sidewalk. That’s a really big issue for me because I feel really unsafe trying to get to and from campus, especially when I’m going down Guad.”

 Melissa Loe, director of communications for UT’s Financial and Administrative Services, said the University supports improving transit options for the UT community.

“As we continue to work with the city on traffic solutions around campus, we highly encourage all members of our campus community to actively participate in stakeholder engagement opportunities,” Loe said in an email.

Somers said they are in the process of gathering community feedback, and the activists hope the plan will influence the Austin community and council members.

“What we need to do next year is really have a bond that is exclusively safety on our local streets, active transportation, equitable access to transit and high capacity transit options,” UT academic advisor Somers said.