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US voters say ‘yes’ to transit expansion

Light and urban rail projects receive long-term certainty following 3 November transit ballots.

After the results of the US General Election were in, voters were also given the chance to vote on 16 transit initiatives on 3 November. Such programmes had received voter approval in 32 out of 34 elections in 2020.

The measures considered represent over USD38bn in new funding. Some of the biggest victories for rail include:

• Proposition A in Austin, TX, passed with 58.2% of the vote, funding the local contribution towards a USD7.1bn expansion of mass transit. The plans include adding new stations to the existing Red light rail line to Leander and construction of the Green line from central to East Austin. Two new lines will also be built: the north-south Orange line, and the Blue line between central Austin and the Airport. The expansion will total 43.4 route-km (27 route miles) with 31 stations.

• Proposition A passed in San Antonio, TX, allowing VIA Metropolitan Transit to continue to operate at full capacity during the pandemic, also creating a dedicated funding stream from 2026.

• Measure RR in the Bay Area, CA, provides the first dedicated source of funding for the Caltrain commuter rail system which lost up to 95% of its ridership during ‘Shelter in Place’ directives. An estimated USD108m annually for the next 30 years will avert closure of the Francisco – San Jose – Gilroy service, also helping fund electrification of the line.

The result was different in Portland, OR, where voters rejected Measure 26-218 which would have funded the local contribution for TriMet to expand light rail service from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin. This 17.7km (11-mile), 13-station line (with five new park-and-ride sites) would have given residents in the south-west of Portland a more direct ride into downtown than the existing WES commuter rail (which requires a transfer in Beaverton).

Similarly, in Georgia the final vote narrowly defeated (by a margin of just 1090 votes) a proposal to create a dedicated funding stream of USD12.2bn through a 1% 30-year sales tax to bring MARTA service, including light rail, BRT, and expanded bus service, to Gwinnett County.