When one thinks of transportation bonds, highways, streets and bridges are what usually comes to mind.
But Proposition B is not a typical transportation bond. The $460 million item, which voters can start deciding on when early voting begins Tuesday, is a transportation bond of a different color.
It’s a climate-change-focused, pedestrian- and bicyclist-centric proposal that puts a premium on commuter safety and environmentalism, as opposed to wider and faster streets to accommodate Austin’s dominant mode of transportation, the car.
It does include a pair of bridges — a $16 million three-spoke pedestrian bridge spanning Lady Bird Lake on the upper side of the Longhorn Dam at Pleasant Valley Road, along with proposed improvements to the Barton Springs Road bridge over Barton Creek. But even the Barton Springs Road improvements are more focused on allowing pedestrian and bicyclists safer access to Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool.
“The way that I think about this is about climate change and where do we want to be in six years,” said Austin City Council Member Paige Ellis, who led the charge to put Prop B on the ballot. “We know climate change is real.”
Prop B arrived on the ballot in the shadow of Proposition A, the tax rate election that would pay for a $7.1 billion mass transit system including multiple light-rail lines.
The city’s finance office has estimated Prop B would lead to a 2-cent increase to the city’s property tax rate. For a homeowner with a residence near the city’s year-to-date median home sales price of about $415,000, that would amount to an increase of about $83 a year.
As outlined by the Austin City Council’s binding contract with votes, the $460 million would be spent on the following:
Sidewalks: $80 million would go to build roughly 78 miles of new sidewalks and to rehabilitate existing sidewalks.
Urban trails: $80 million would go to build out urban trails such as Shoal Creek, the Red Line, Walnut Creek and the Bergstrom Spur, as well as design work for other trails.
Bikeways: $40 million would go to build out about 70% of bikeways identified in the Austin Bicycle Plan’s All Ages and Abilities Bicycle Network.
Safety/Vision Zero: $65 million would go for reconstruction of 25 intersections, pedestrian crossings and speed mitigation projects as part of Vision Zero, the city’s program that aims to eliminate traffic deaths.
Safe routes to school: $20 million would go to address about 8% of high and very high priority safe routes projects.
Transit enhancement: $19 million would go to projects addressing the safety of bus service and transit access as well as communication.
Substandard streets: $53 million would go to Ross Road and Johnny Morris Road for improvements — including widening roads and adding new drainage — that were recommended in engineering reports that were done as part of the 2016 Mobility Bond.
Capital improvements: $102 million would go to the construction of the Longhorn Dam pedestrian bridge, Congress Avenue urban design, South Pleasant Valley corridor improvements and various pedestrian infrastructure projects.
Prop A might have sucked the oxygen that would have fueled any organized opposition to Prop B. No groups have been created to specifically oppose it.
One political action committee, Safer Mobility Austin, was created to support Prop A. It’s latest campaign finance report showed it had raised $21,536 with $18,286 remaining for the rest of the campaign. But that amount pales to the near $1 million raised by the leading pro-Prop A political action committee
It’s unclear whether Prop B’s ability to fly largely under the radar will be an advantage or disadvantage with voters. As for timing, Council Member Greg Casar said the community’s calls for sidewalk funding are eternal.
“The most common phone call and email we get in our office is about getting sidewalks on their street, getting sidewalks on the way to their school, getting a bike lane in their neighborhood,” Casar said. “People always ask how come Austin has so many amenities but does not have the sidewalks.”
But Mark Littlefield, a local political consultant working with the Prop A campaign, said high voter turnout would work in Prop B’s favor.
“In order to pass these propositions, a simple cocktail of only two things are needed: a belief that these projects will help make living in Austin easier and the absolute largest youth turnout in the history of the city of Austin,” Littlefield said.
The campaigns will provide the first ingredient, he said. “Donald J. Trump will help with the latter.”