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Adler fires back at transportation bond critics

Mayor Steve Adler lashed back Wednesday at unnamed critics who have knocked his $720 million transportation bond proposition, saying in a midday speech that they have misrepresented the tax impact of the bonds and details of the underlying road projects.

“When you get emails or see blogs that say awful things about this bond and say, ‘That can’t be true,’ it probably isn’t,” Adler said at an Austin Board of Realtors forum. Those who have been attacking the plan, saying an associated tax increase will be much larger than Adler and other supporters have said, are part of a breed of eternal skeptics who have held back progress in Austin, the mayor said.

“We’re a city that, confronted with options A and B, neither of which are perfect, will choose option C” to do nothing, he said. “We will never get that perfect unicorn plan.”

Austin voters will decide the fate of the bond proposition Nov. 8.

The Austin Board of Realtors, which has endorsed the bond proposition, has donated $50,000 to Austin Forward, the political action committee formed to campaign for the proposition, said Jim Wick, who is running the campaign. Austin Forward has raised about $550,000 so far, Wick said.

The $720 million, to be spent over the next six to eight years, includes $482 million for changes to eight or nine major Austin streets, what Adler calls “smart corridors.” It also includes $137 million for a variety of bike, sidewalk, trail, safety and repair projects, and $101 million for expansions on several West and Northwest Austin streets and highways.

Once all the bonds are sold, which might occur within five years, city officials say, property taxes would increase by less than $5 a month on a $250,000 home, Adler and materials from the bond campaign say.

Critics have said that understates the tax impact substantially, both because the median Austin home is worth more (the critics say $340,000, while city officials say it is about $280,000) and because it does not take into account increasing home values in the coming years. They also say the $482 million portion for the smart corridors is just a “down payment” on projects that staff estimates would exceed $1.56 billion.

Adler stood by the less-than-$5-a-month figure.

“If you get a contradictory answer than that, that is not true,” he said.

Bond opponents also say that the corridor plans include the closure of 30 miles of lanes, in some cases to make space on the streets for bike lanes. Adler disputed that, saying only two of the plans — East Riverside and Guadalupe Street near the university — recommend closures of regular traffic lanes.

However, the South Lamar plan includes potential rush hour closures of a lane in each direction (to accommodate buses), and the short-term recommendations for North Lamar include a lane closure from Parmer Lane to Howard Lane (though the long-term plan restores that fourth lane). And several of the plans include replacing continuous left turn lanes in the center with grassy medians, a change that Adler says traffic engineers believe will reduce traffic congestion.

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