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.


Ice covered utility lines across Austin. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
SHARE YOUR STORY: How did you survive the Texas freeze?

We want to hear how the winter storms affected you.

Q2 Stadium
Austin FC preseason scrimmages planned for late March start

Preseason matches for Austin FC will be held in South Austin ahead of the team's inaugural MLS season.

Lawmakers began hearings Feb. 25 to hear from energy executives about what led to dayslong power outages following a Feb. 14 winter storm. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin weekly roundup: The storm is over, but the questions are just beginning

In hearings last week, a state senator from the Houston area called the power and water outages in Texas "the largest trainwreck in the history of degregulated electricity."

Crawfish season,  from mid-January through June, is the busiest time at Shoal Creek Saloon. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Shoal Creek Saloon brings a piece of New Orleans to Austin

COVID-19 has dealt the Shoal Creek Saloon a blow, but owner Ray Canfield is hanging in there and said he was prepared for a disaster. He just thought it would be another flood, not a virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine for emergency authorization use Feb. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recommended for emergency authorization use by FDA

This is the third COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved for emergency authorization use after those produced by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company Moderna.

Josh Frank, owner of Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in for more than a decade, holds up a Blue Starlite-branded mask. (Photo by Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Long-time Austin theater Blue-Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In takes on new life in pandemic

Drive-in theater Blue Starlite found itself in a unique position in 2020: After more than 10 years as a small business “just getting by,” demand for drive-in movies exploded, owner Josh Frank said.

The University of Texas Radio-Television-Film department will be offering virtual camps this summer. (Courtesy The University of Texas)
2021 Central Austin summer camp guide: 44 options including virtual and in-person offerings

Our list of camps happening in Austin this summer includes options focusing on academics, arts, sports and language.

Samsung's proposed $17 billion chip-making plant would dwarf other recent megaprojects that sought tax incentives in the region.
Samsung’s request to pay no property tax on $17 billion plant tests Austin’s incentive policy

Samsung is asking for 100% property tax reimbursement over 25 years, which would mark the most aggressive corporate tax break in Austin history.

A new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could help expand vaccination availability in Travis County, according to local health officials. (Courtesy Pexels)
Johnson & Johnson vaccine could mean additional supply, easier distribution rollout in Travis County

If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be a valuable weapon against the ongoing pandemic, according to local health officials.

Austin ISD students will begin the 2021-22 school year Tuesday, Aug. 17. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Take a look at Austin ISD’s newly approved calendar for the 2021-22 school year

Austin ISD trustees have approved the academic calendar for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.