August 3, 2016 – TRA Comment

Somedays you just have to admire the irony.

Forbes magazine stringer Scott Beyer, in a July 29 posting on the Forbes.com site charged that “Austin’s Commuter Rail Is A Monument to Government Waste.”

The article described Beyer at the end of the line in Leander on a Saturday afternoon. Naturally the station is quiet. Crickets. It’s a bedroom community and commuters are Monday through Friday worker bees. Beyer claims it’s a waste of money to build rail lines because they are not used day and night and they cost more to operate than buses.  Should Beyer have been on a weekday rush hour train he would have found the cars to be at capacity and roads backed up with traffic. When you read his story you will find that Beyer has an obvious distaste for anything that resembles public transit that runs on tracks and that’s OK. It’s just one persons opinion. But we digress.

The same time the Forbes article came out the Austin American-Statesman ran a story about a $50 million dollar transit oriented project to be built steps from one of the MetroRail stops. Cityline at MLK Station will have 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, 134,000 square feet of creative office space and 22 townhomes. That’s one step in the right direction. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) in Dallas is blooming with TOD at stops in Carrollton, Farmers Branch, Mockingbird Station, Uptown Station, Victory Station and Bush Turnpike station in Richardson. It takes time, sometimes more than we wish, but transit economic development happens when rail stops are built.

So building rail is a waste of money? Or building rail leads to economic development and is a catalyst for moving people other than by roadway?

This is good news for Austin and MetroRail, which has had its share of bumps and problems as the only rail line in the city.  With just one “starter” line it’s hard to build ridership and when you don’t have fast and frequent service with connectivity to other rail lines it’s even harder. Austin’s sprawling reach into rural areas needs more than just more highways, wider highways, toll roads and more congestion. The Austin region needs a road and rail approach if its citizens don’t want to choke on congestion. It’s almost too late to acquire right-of-way for rail expansion in the region. Just throwing more buses on the roads isn’t the answer either. It just adds to the mess. The clock is ticking Austin.