On Wednesday, the mayoral candidates for the upcoming November election participated in a debate presented by KLRU and the Urban Land Institute. Although the discussion featured a variety of questions posed by moderator Jennifer Stayton, the conversation was consumed by the topic of transportation.
Stayton started the debate by asking the candidates about Proposition 1 — a more than $1 billion transportation bond proposal that would create a 9.5-mile light rail transit line. While the proposal would lead to what could be considered a more efficient and more modern method for public transportation, $400 million of the proposed funding would go toward road improvements.
During the debate, candidates Randall Stephens and Todd Phelps expressed opposition to Proposition 1, but unfortunately did not provide any viable alternative. In response to a statement by fellow candidate and current City Council member Mike Martinez, explaining Proposition 1’s place in a 50-year traffic solution vision, Stephens dismissed the proposition as insufficient in addressing the urgency of the problem. Phelps, an advocate for roadway expansions, including of Interstate 35, spoke against the increase in property taxes that would ensue, which has already caused a mass exodus of Austin residents. But his battle cry of “35 high and wide” does not help those who depend on efficient public transportation. Candidate Steve Adler expressed support for the proposition, but only because the city needs a solution sooner rather than later. Adler proffered the elitist idea of behavioral changes in the workplace, such as telecommuting and staggered work hours, which could only be applied to jobs in the service sector.
Martinez and current Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole were the only candidates to wholeheartedly support the proposition, unsurprisingly considering their current participation in the City Council, which voted in early August to place the measure on the ballot. But Martinez’s vision for Austin is unrealistic, at least for the near future. “I will continue my work as chairman of the Capital Metro board, and ensure that each year, millions of cars are removed from the road,” Martinez said during the forum. Though more affordable and better for the environment, public transportation is not everyone’s first choice, and his plan to alter public behavior seems to us unfeasible.
But Cole differs from Martinez in that she expressed equal support for roadway projects included in the proposition. “Roads are imperative to present a comprehensive package,” Cole said. This editorial board supports Cole’s advocacy for roadway improvements because while a rail will primarily help with inner city mobility, in the interest of expediency, Cole’s vision is a more pragmatic response to the transportation question.