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Austin again weighing light rail options

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TWC News: Austin again weighing light rail options
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Newer, bigger buses, lanes dedicated to express routes and expansion of the region's rail system all come with a large price tag. City planners are still figuring out how they’ll cover the bill.

"We have a plan in place that funds 40 percent of the entire system,” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. “The entire system goes all the way from Georgetown to San Marcos."

Transit leaders continue to stress that Central Texas cannot pave its way out of congestion, which is why the focus continues to be on rail.

Voters shot down a regional light rail plan in 2000, then approved the Leander to Downtown Austin commuter rail a few years later.

"What we are discussing today is largely different than what was discussed in 2000," said John Langmore of the Capital Metro Board.

Langmore is part of a group that is designing the region's rail map. He believes public perception is changing, but admits the group still hasn’t decided where the tracks will be laid.

Some have suggested adding rail on some of the busiest corridors, like South Lamar. The goal is not trying to prevent today's traffic problems. It’s circumventing tomorrow’s.

"Something has to be done,” Langmore said. “We have to have an alternative to everybody moving through this city in a single occupant vehicle."

Mayor Lee Leffingwell is revisiting an idea that first surfaced six years ago -- leasing Austin-Bergstrom. The city could opt for a one-time, lump-sum payment, or share revenues over a 40- to 50-year lease term.

Leffingwell said every dollar would have to stay in transportation to gain his support.

"I'm not sure if I'm for it or not,” Leffingwell said. “We are still in the information gathering process. We may decide to go forward with it. We may not."

Just one more option on the table, as the region looks for the most feasible way to fund rail.

Mayor Leffingwell said property taxes are the most logical option to pay for urban rail between Mueller in East Austin and Downtown.

He said voters could see a bond package on the ballot in the next year.

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