Austin council signs off on Project Connect 'rules of the rails'

The agreement touches on several aspects of the multi-billion dollar transit project's development. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
The agreement touches on several aspects of the multi-billion dollar transit project's development. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)

The agreement touches on several aspects of the multi-billion dollar transit project's development. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)

After a week's delay and extended deliberation on the dais, Austin City Council approved an updated version of the document setting the responsibilities for Project Connect's development.

The joint powers agreement involves three Project Connect stakeholders: the city of Austin, Capital Metro, and the Austin Transit Partnership, or ATP. Sam Sargent, ATP director of strategy, said last week that the document represents the "rules of the rails" for the $7.1 billion transit expansion.

The three entities gathered last week at the Austin Convention Center to hammer out the final agreement but were forced to delay due to technical difficulties. Council took up its approval of the document, and several members' revisions to the plan, Nov. 4.

In addition to detailing the roles of the ATP, Capital Metro and city officials and staff, portions of the document also tie to equity, land use and community engagement as the expansive transit project moves ahead. Several edits to the agreement approved by council this week also reflect commentary from residents and mobility groups that had previously expressed reservations.

One such change brought forward by Mayor Steve Adler concerned how the ATP, which oversees Project Connect's implementation, chooses a director and CEO. Adler's amendment to the joint powers agreement allows the ATP to select a leader with additional guidance on community engagement.


"In drafting this language, community advocates helped with words to ensure a deliberative process around the appointment of the executive director, and one in which we can all be confident that all voices will be actively involved," Adler said in a Nov. 2 council message board post.

Additional discussion at council's Nov. 4 session centered around future planning as the Project Connect process rolls on, and how the three involved entities will work through issues related to land use and equitable transit-oriented development.

Amendments and related discussions got into a detailed level at times, with several council members expressing uncertainty over what guidelines were being proposed. District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria, a Capital Metro director, also voiced concern over perceived mistrust and getting bogged down in tweaks given the desire for friendly cooperation between the city and transit bodies moving forward, an opinion shared by District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly.

"Bad communication can create obstacles, and I don't want to give the wrong impression to our other partners involved," she said. "The joint powers agreement is here so that we can all work together cohesively, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Additional amendments to the guiding agreement approved Nov. 4 include submissions from District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo covering preservation along future rail lines. One measure called for mitigation of construction around "parkland and historic squares," and another could see stakeholders work to protect the Waller Creek Boathouse. The relatively new structure on Lady Bird Lake is expected to be wiped out by Project Connect's Blue Line bridge, although Tovo said pieces of the structure prized by some local rowing enthusiasts could be saved and reconstructed.

“This just directs our manager and our city staff to continue to work on assessing appropriate spaces, and more importantly, to provide us with an update on what some of those possibilities are so that we can really be proactive about that process," she said.

In the end, council unanimously signed off on moving the amended joint powers agreement forward in a 10-0 vote with District 4 Council Member Greg Casar off the dais.

Benton Graham contributed to this report.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.



MOST RECENT

The World Health Organization listed the omicron variant as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. The variant was first reported in South Africa. (Courtesy Travis County)
Austin Public Health eyes movement of omicron variant, but has yet to detect a case

The Austin-Travis County area will also remain in Stage 3 because of moderate community transmission rates and rising cases nationwide.

Crust Pizza Co. is opening soon in Montgomery and Willis. (Courtesy Crust Pizza Co.)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: 5 businesses coming to McKinney; Crust Pizza Co. to open two locations in Montgomery, Willis and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Nov. 30.

Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzalez answered commissioners' and board members' questions at a Nov. 29 meeting. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
South Austin public engagement threatened by land use commissions moving meeting place, commissioners say

Land use commissions are being asked to move meetings from City Hall to a new space in North Austin, but they say the move raises safety issues.

I Live Here I Give Here encourages individuals to donate to nonprofit organizations in their community. (Courtesy I Live Here I Give Here)
I Live Here I Give Here encourages Austinites to donate to local organizations Nov. 30

The nonprofit is encouraging the community to donate for Giving Tuesday on Nov. 30.

The median home price in the Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto area has risen considerably since last October. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Home sales, costs in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto remain hotter than Greater Austin; Halal Guys opens in Pearland and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Nov. 29.

The Austin Trail of Lights will open nighly from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31. (Courtesy Trail of Lights Foundation)
PHOTOS: Austin Trail of Lights returns to Zilker Park this week

The traditional holiday light show is open from Nov. 28 through New Year's Eve.

Commissioners on Nov. 22 voted to approve a density change to preliminary plans for The Preserve, a neighborhood that city documents said could include 565 single-family homes at the northeast corner of Teel and Panther Creek Parkways. (Courtesy city of Frisco)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Neighborhood near PGA Frisco could see larger lots; ERCOT says Texas power grid ready for expected winter demand and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Nov. 24.

Local and state officials have made statements welcoming Samsung to Taylor following the announcement that the city will be home to its new $17 billion semiconductor fabrication plant. (Courtesy KXAN)
State, local officials react to Texas governor, Samsung joint announcement

Local and state officials have made statements welcoming Samsung to Taylor following the announcement that the city will be home to its new $17 billion semiconductor fabrication plant. 

Austin City Council will meet for a work session dedicated to housing affordability discussions Nov. 30. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Austin City Hall notebook: Council set for dive into housing, development after Thanksgiving break

A Nov. 30 work session could see city leaders work through a range of adjustments to city development code, rules and processes.

The new initiative will build the communities capacity to address homelessness along with collecting data from people who have increased access to those in need. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
ECHO, St. David's Foundation launch new program to build a community approach to homelessness

The program aims to address inequities in traditional homelessness response.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sits beside Samsung CEO Dr. Kinam Kim as he announces the company is brining a $17 billion facility to Taylor. (Screnshot via KXAN)
Samsung makes it official: Announcement from Governor's Mansion confirms $17B facility coming to Taylor

Nearly a year after Williamson County officials began pitching Samsung to bring a megafacility to the area, the electronics giant has made it official.