Light Rail

This November, Austin voters will decide on one of the biggest expenditures in city history: a $1 billion proposal for a new starter light rail line and state road improvements. 

Callie Hernandez for KUT

Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s transportation bond proposal totals $720 million. At times, the Mayor has said Austin needs to “go big” on mobility.

But some transit activists are asking him to go bigger.


Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

From the Austin Monitor: The Urban Transportation Commission has once again given a boost to advocates for light rail in Austin.

At its meeting last week, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that City Council consider putting bonds for “rail options” on the November ballot.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Earlier this year, Austinites got a warning from their mayor: Pass a proposed light rail line, or face certain doom. There was no "Plan B," voters were told. 

"Here's the basic equation," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in his State of the City address, "Rail or fail." 

Austin voters chose the latter option this election, saying "No" to a billion-dollar light rail and road improvements proposal by a wide margin, 57 percent voting "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." The proposal garnered a lot of interest, with 15,000 more Austinites voting on it than on the race for Mayor of Austin.

Contrary to what you might have heard, this was technically the first time a rail plan has been voted down within city limits. So what happened? How did a supposedly progressive, typically bond-approving city electorate shoot down something so strongly?

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

From The Austin Monitor:

City Council Member and Austin mayoral candidate Mike Martinez is looking to pitch multiple bus rapid transit lines as the next major transportation investment for the area.

In an interview with the Monitor, Martinez nodded to the work done by Project Connect – efforts that led to a $600 million rail bond question that was defeated at the ballot Nov. 4. In addition, if he can get the support, he would like to try a pilot program that would make bus ridership free for a year.

“The bottom line is Prop 1 failed, and citizens spoke loud and clear on rail,” Martinez said. “So I think it’s time we embrace bus service and take it to a whole new level. We have to become the best bus-serviced city in the entire country.”

Jenna VonHofe/KUT

After years of false starts and changed plans for light rail in Austin, voters have decided against a billion-dollar plan that would have brought the city its first light rail line and hundreds of millions of dollars in road improvements. 

Rail hasn't been on the ballot in Austin for ten years (though it did come close), so there was a lot of anticipation about this vote. If it had been approved, a billion dollars in all would have be taken on in city debt, $600 million to partially pay for a starter 9.5 mile light rail line and $400 million for improvements to state roads aimed at easing congestion. (For a detailed explainer on the proposal, we've got you covered.)

The final tally of votes had the proposal losing by a wide margin, with 57 percent of voters saying "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." That's a 14-point loss for the light rail and roads proposal. (By comparison, in 2000, a light rail proposal in Austin was defeated by a margin of less than a point.) Overall, more people voted on the rail and roads proposition than did in the race for mayor (nearly 15,000 move votes in all). Voters in the urban core voted to pass the measure (map below), but they were outnumbered by voters outside of the urban core that voted against. (You can view an interactive map and see how your precinct voted here.)

Pages