AUSTIN — A three-person panel at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday on trade and transportation entitled “Is light rail the answer” said the benefits of having a rail line outweigh the costs and inconvenience of the construction involved.
Manager of Rail Passenger Research at Texas A&M John Sedlak, Austin Councilman Mike Martinez and Deputy Executive Director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit Jesse Oliver served on the panel to discuss the future of light rails in Texas.
Sedlak, a former Metro employee responsible for the development of their first light rail line, said it’s a process that affects businesses and consumers.
“It’s like trying to do a heart transplant, you’ve got to keep the patient alive and keep them functioning,” Sedlak said. “It’s a really tough situation to come into dense urban centers and make changes to all the utilities that are going to be impacted.”
Martinez said there is more to solving a city congestion problem than the light rails.
“The answer to a growing population and increased traffic is multi-faceted,” Martinez said. “Light rail is only part of the solution, and Austin should improve their roads and increase the amount of bike paths and sidewalks.”
Martinez said he would like Austin to follow the same path that Houston has taken by connecting UH and TSU with the light-rail system.
“In my opinion it can’t happen soon enough,” Martinez said. “We have to have as many options available to us in terms of public transportation. I would love to see Austin take that step towards an urban rail circulation system but it is very expensive and it will take some time. Even if we were to pass it in the next few year it wouldn’t be up and running until 2020.”
Oliver said there has always been opposition to transportation expansions.
“Some of the things that are asked today about light-rail were probably asked about the Intercontinental Railroads in the 1860s, maybe the Erie Canal long before that,” Oliver said. And more recently even about Interstate 35 when it was being proposed back in the 50s.
According to Oliver, Dallas has seen the benefits of a light rail system.
“There’s a lot of advantages to light rail development and rail development. There has been like an 8-1 return on public dollars invested in light rail by the private sector in terms of redevelopment around the stations,” Oliver said.
For Sedlak, light-rail is important for a simple reason.
“We can’t build our way out of congestion.”