A Central Texas transit group is considering a number of different funding options for the Project Connect regional transportation plan, which currently is about 49 percent funded.
The Transit Working Group—a committee formed by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and chaired by Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell—listened to several other financing options it could pursue to make up the remaining 51 percent during its April 12 work session.
Project Connect is a $4 billion plan that includes several high-capacity transit elements such as MetroRapid, the bus rapid transit system that Capital Metro will roll out in 2014, as well as urban rail and the regional rail line from Georgetown to San Antonio that the Lone Star Rail District is planning.
"For this plan to work, we need a lot of people buying in early in the process," said Brian Piascik, principal transportation planner with URS Corporation, which is assisting the TWG with the financial plan. "These growth funding sources out there, we need to start them as soon as possible in order to generate the revenue we'll need to make the system a reality."
About $1.9 billion of the plan would be financed through growth funding sources, which include using 29 percent of local sales tax growth over the base year. Communities interested in being a part of the regional plan would commit to this 29 percent or could use other options to make up their portion, such as creating tax increment finance districts near future rail stations.
"Using these existing sources that we talked about, we can get close to 50 percent of the vision map completed," Piascik said.
The TWG also listened to proposals for other possible sources of revenue, most of which would need legislative approval to be implemented:
Emissions tax: Could yield $16.1 million per year. Capital Metro could implement the tax within its service area but requires a referendum to implement outside its boundaries.
Vehicle registration fee: The fee is currently in place in Capital Metro's service area and could yield $24.5 million. The fee could vary from $5 in the service area to $10 for outside the service area, which requires legislative approval.
Mobility use tax: Could yield $41.2 million annually. This would read a vehicle's odometer during the safety inspection and collect a $5–$10 fee per every 5,000 miles driven.
Off-street parking fee: Could yield $14.4 million annually. It would be a tax on parking spaces or a transaction fee for paid parking. It possibly would be appropriate in Austin's central business district.
Local option sales tax: Could yield $48.4 million annually but would require a referendum and legislative approval. It would be a special purpose increase on the state cap on sales tax for transportation. The tax would be 1/8 of a penny in the Capital Metro service area and 1/4 of a penny outside the area.
Using just the vehicle registration option, Piascik said about 59 percent of the plan would be funded.
The TWG has identified several communities that could participate in funding the plan, such as the cities of Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Leander, Cedar Park, Hutto, Buda, Kyle and San Marcos as well as Hays, Travis and Williamson counties and the Austin Community College District. Communities would fund an equal share of the plan.
"Everyone gets the benefit of the entire system," said Joseph Lessard, senior planning director from Knudson LP, a Houston-based environmental and construction management and planning services company.
Capital Metro President/CEO Linda Watson said the agency has had meetings with all the communities mentioned about transportation planning.
"Almost without exception, they are all wanting good transit services," she said. "We've got some really good dialogue already."