Austin City Council votes to put $460 million transportation bond on November ballot

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council voted Thursday to bring a transportation bond to voters in November.

Nine city council members voted in favor while Council Member Jimmy Flannigan voted against and Council Member Alison Alter abstained.

The $460 million bond proposal includes bike lane improvements and making it safer to walk near schools. It also targets building sidewalks in high-priority areas that are missing sidewalks altogether or have deteriorating sidewalks.

“There are vast areas of Austin with no bike infrastructure at all. Or if there is bike infrastructure, it’s a five-foot unprotected bike lane on a four-lane or six-lane road,” said Adam Greenfield, board member of Bike Austin and board president of Walk Austin.

Greenfield told KXAN he doesn’t own a car.

“I bike almost everywhere, and I walk as much as I can,” he said.

He believes safety improvements are needed, so more people can feel comfortable biking or walking.

“The majority of Austinites are what are known as interested but concerned, potential cyclists where they’re not cycling right now, but they would if the infrastructure were good enough,” Greenfield said.

2016 and 2018 transportation bonds

Initially, city staff recommended a $250 million bond, and they reminded the council there’s still money leftover from the 2016 and 2018 transportation bonds.

They expect using those up will lead to a one and half cent tax rate increase over the next four years. The proposed bond would come with its own eventual tax rate increase that’ll happen over a six-year period — so the average homeowner could see their tax bills go up by about $80.

Greenfield told KXAN he supports going ahead with a new bond before the older bonds run out.

“We not only don’t want the money to run out. We don’t want the city to start winding down,” he said. “So in short, what I’m saying is we need more money now to continue the momentum and not to lose it.”

Staff also told council, normally, developing a bond involves extensive public engagement, which didn’t happen for this bond proposal, but they conceded the new bond would fund projects and plans that went through community review previously.

Project Connect tax rate increase

On Thursday, Austin City Council also voted to put an 8.75 cent tax rate increase on the November ballot to pay for the $7.1 billion initial investment for Project Connect.

The plan includes new light rail lines, a downtown tunnel and more buses.

The extra cost for this for homeowners would be $284 a year for a home worth $325,000.

The transportation bond is separate from Project Connect’s tax rate increase. That means voters will see two different questions related to transportation on the ballot.

Greenfield said sidewalks and bike lane improvements that come from the proposed bond would actually help people better access public transit.

“We want more people to use public transportation. We want it to be more useful to people, but people have to get to it,” he said.

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