Funding for Weekend Rail Faces Vote Tonight
Weekend rail service on the Red Line could be coming to Austin: The City Council will vote today on whether to fund it year-round.
That would cost almost $4.5 million for two years, but Capital Metro doesn’t have enough money to pay for it; the funding would come from money Capital Metro already owes the city.
Ridership on the Red Line skyrocketed during South by Southwest last year. Cap Metro CEO Linda Watson says 17,000 people rode the Red Line over those two weekends. She says the request for weekend service has come from the public and the city of Austin.
“They have been very interested providing increased mobility to the downtown area and bringing more people downtown,” Watson said. “They also, as well as Capital Metro, see it as part of a regional transportation solution.”
Capital Metro can pay for weekend rail service during SXSW next month, but the city would have to pay to keep it going year-round. And one way to do that, says Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, is with sales tax revenue Capital Metro owes the city.
“We are not spending any more money on that “It’s money that Cap Metro was going to give us to spend on transportation projects, and we are just redirecting it,” Leffingwell said at this week’s council work session.
Council member Laura Morrison wasn’t entirely convinced. “I do like to remember that there is no free money,” she said.
Morrison says she’s concerned other city transportation projects will be left unfunded if the Council decides to spend $4.4 million on weekend service over the next two years.
Assistant City Manager Robert Goode said some projects would be affected, but many of them have found other funding.
“The projects that we had in queue are being funded elsewhere, so that challenge has been overcome,” Goode said. “But there are projects that we could have funded, that perhaps would have been in the next bond program from quarter-cent funding, that we won’t now, if we take this step.”
Goode says there’s a 90-day option for the city to cancel weekend rail service if ridership is lower than expected.
The city is also trying to negotiate a lower price for the deal. People have been signing an online petition supporting weekend Red Line service. But it has opposition as well.
“Most of the riders of the Red Line, by my estimation, do not live in the city of Austin,” Dahmus said. “And it’s even likely that most of the riders of the Red Line do not even live in cities that pay Capital Metro taxes.”
Dahmus says he’d rather see the money used on the city’s urban rail proposal, which is still looking for funding.
Most council members seemed reluctant to vote on a contract that was still in negotiation, so they might decide to postpone today’s vote.