May 20, 2008
Austin light rail hits delays

The light rail plan for Austin has run into that oldest of snags, the committee to study alternatives.

When Austin Mayor Will Wynn used his annual "state of the city" speech in October to plant the seed of rail, what he hoped would sprout was a November 2008 referendum on a central city streetcar or light rail system.

As recently as a month ago, Wynn enthusiastically served as emcee for the unveiling of the outlines of such a project, arguing that it is crucial to build a rail line connecting the airport, downtown and other "activity centers" in Central Austin.

But what bloomed from Wynn's initial effort was a "decision tree," a multibranched set of questions that supporters of any future Central Texas rail project will now have to answer as a starting point.

Momentum for the public vote that Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken were looking for has gone dormant, both admit.

"I don't want to predict when the election would be," McCracken says now.

As recently as late April, McCracken (rumored to be eyeing a 2009 mayoral run) was still pushing for a November vote on the light rail project, which would follow a 32-mile commuter line between Austin and Leander that is set to open late this year or early next year.

"The first principle is that we have to get the details right. ... That takes precedence over any election deadline," McCracken says now.

In short, downtown rail is once again in political limbo.

It's a long story, one that may end with a referendum this year, next year, or 2010. The good news, at least, is that the political climate will be different this time around than it was in 2000.

"I've been pushing for two years to have an election immediately," said state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, a member of the transit working group and a former rail skeptic who now supports it. "We're two years too late. Our downtown is literally in crisis.

"I think any specific, reasonable plan that moves people around downtown Austin efficiently would pass. Absolutely, no doubt in my mind."

If Krusee is on board, things have got to be looking up. Good luck getting a plan to the ballot box, Austin.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 20, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

This is more like The Committee to Build Support for the Project.

Posted by: Jeb on May 21, 2008 11:46 AM