Newly appointed transit board to oversee implementation of $7.1B Project Connect plan

Proposition A, the ballot item associated with Capital Metro's Project Connect plan, passed Nov. 3 with 57.94% of the vote—240,433 votes to 174,528 against—across Travis and Williamson counties. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
Proposition A, the ballot item associated with Capital Metro's Project Connect plan, passed Nov. 3 with 57.94% of the vote—240,433 votes to 174,528 against—across Travis and Williamson counties. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)

Proposition A, the ballot item associated with Capital Metro's Project Connect plan, passed Nov. 3 with 57.94% of the vote—240,433 votes to 174,528 against—across Travis and Williamson counties. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)

With the city’s transformation $7.1 billion Project Connect rail and bus plan approved by voters in November, Austin City Council and local transit authority Capital Metro appointed the five-person board responsible for overseeing its implementation.

The Austin Transit Partnership is made up by one member of the Austin City Council, one from the CapMetro board and then three community experts in finance, engineering, construction, sustainability and planning. The inaugural crew appointed by Austin City Council and CapMetro include Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Huston-Tillotson University President Colette Pierce Burnette, WSP USA Vice President Tony Elkins, CapMetro board member Eric Stratton, and Veronica Castro de Barrera, owner of VCdB Architecture and Art.

Adler called Project Connect the “single most important thing” the city could do in getting people out of cars and reaching its climate goals.

The independent board, which will act as the governing body of the Project Connect process, holds a significant amount of authority moving forward. The group will be responsible for approving the annual budget, approving design, construction and engineering projects, agreeing to interlocal agreements and overseeing the implementation, design and construction of the $7.1 billion transit plan’s projects. Austin City Council and the CapMetro board will oversee the Austin Transit Partnership’s work.

The authority granted to the Austin Transit Partnership members was a sticking point for several community members who spoke in objection to moving forward with the appointments at the Dec. 18 meeting. During the public comment portion, several Austinites complained that the process was rushed, opaque and lacked public input.

Monica Guzman from Go Austin/Vamos Austin said the communities of color were not engaged in the selection process for the Austin Transit Partnership. Many others complained that the notice for the meeting was only posted 72 hours ahead of time, well shy of the week, and sometimes two-week, notice practice of Austin City Council.

One representative from AURA, a local advocacy group that has pushed transit solutions for years, said they voted for Proposition A in November to accept the take hike associated with the projects, but was concerned with the lack of transparency around the Austin Transit Partnership process.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who was on the selection committee for the Austin Transit Partnership, said the governing bodies need to have a “hand in glove approach” with the community through the rest of the Project Connect partnership. She acknowledged their shortcomings in balancing transparency with the need to move quickly.

“This is a learning and a growing process for all of us,” Kitchen said. “Trust is top of mind and most important. I think we can do better.”

Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion said since the voters approved the massive project, the governing bodies need to be prepared to “bend over backwards” in order to engage them and ensure they understand the what, how and why of the different steps of the process.

The Austin Transit Partnership’s inaugural meeting is scheduled for next month.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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