🚂 Light rails and lawsuits: An Austin love story
- 4 min read

🚂 Light rails and lawsuits: An Austin love story

Plus, catch the train to San Antonio... one day, maybe.


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☀️ Good morning, Austin.

It’s north of 80 degrees in February. Let that sink in.

In honor of the Red Line's McKalla station opening this weekend (plus, free rides Saturday to celebrate Austin FC's season opener), we dedicate this edition to train news. Read up on the latest in the light rail saga and peep the hold-up on plans for a train to San Antonio.

Plus, we explain those funky white markers bobbing up and down in Town Lake. 🤔

Austin’s light rail saga continues

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Dream with us for a second: Instead of taking an Uber to the Austin airport, you take a train. 

You avoid Highway 71 and the traffic headaches that come with it being the only way in or out of the airport. You even have time for a beer before you board. Life is good.

That was part of the original Project Connect plan for the city’s light rail, which voters approved a tax rate hike for in 2020. 

But in June 2023, Austin Transit Partnership (responsible for building the light rail) cut the airport line and other parts of the plan, citing increased costs. 

In November, a group that included former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, filed a lawsuit against ATP’s leaders over the cuts and concerns about their “super-risky financing scheme,” Aleshire told us.

Shots fired. 

On Tuesday, ATP filed a petition asking a Travis County court to quickly approve its funding structure. Doing so could also fast-track an outcome in the lawsuit. The quicker it’s settled = the sooner ATP could begin construction. 

“We are delighted to have the case expedited and consolidate with our case,” Aleshire told us, adding that “Enron had more fiscal discipline than the Watson Council majority and the ATP board.” An ATP representative supplied a press release upon request for comment.

Austin light rail 101

Meant to ease the city’s traffic sitch, Project Connect has always included light rail plans. Light rail trains are electric and smaller than, say, Austin’s existing Red Line, which runs on traditional tracks. The OG plan called for two downtown light rail lines, plus a third running out toward Manor. The current, scaled-down plan involves a single line without key stops — like the airport. 

So what now?

It’s a waiting game until the lawsuit and petition hit the court. That could happen as early as this spring, per Community Impact. In the meantime, good luck braving 71 to go to the airport. May the odds be ever in your favor.

— Katie Canales, Editor

Temperature: 85 degrees   Sun: Mixed with clouds  What to Expect: Too hot

Warm southwest winds, aka the state's natural heater, may just have you reaching for the AC. This will be our hottest day of the year so far, so your afternoon ice-coffee can be consumed completely guilt-free.

Mary’s Tip: Chill out with one of my favorite smoothies from JuiceLand, The Berry Godmother. Yummy!

What're those white things in Town Lake?!

Katie Canales/Austin Daily

If you've hit up the Town Lake trails in the past few days, you may have noticed rows of white objects sticking out of the water. Facing east from the I-35 walkway, you'll see them in a near-perfect, symmetrical grid.  

They are not, in fact, the work of aliens. Nor are they proposed I-35 expansion lanes. (Reddit, you've outdone yourself with that one.)

Nay, they are lanes for The Heart of Texas Regatta, an annual 1,000-meter event, hosted by the Austin Rowing Club since 1983.

Check it out this Saturday and Sunday.

In other train news ...

Hoping to get plans for a passenger rail between Austin and San Antonio back on track (pun super intended), leaders from the two cities met with Union Pacific Railroad representatives last week in Washington, D.C.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai spoke with the railroad company about expanding service between the two metropolitan areas and beyond.

So what's the holdup? In past years, Union Pacific has resisted the passenger-rail idea; it declined to share tracks with the Lone Star Rail District project in 2016. As Judge Brown tweeted last week, "We’ve got miles and miles to go." But hey, baby steps.

Hearst reporter Annasofia Scheve has the full scoop.

💭 @EvilMopacATX offers a friendly reminder about SXSW

To the uninitiated, Evil MoPac is a satirical Twitter account "run" by the human manifestation of MoPac, aka the nightmarishly-clogged highway that runs north to south, just west of the city center. And he wants to remind y’all: SXSW is almost upon us. 

👉 And we want to hear from YOU. What do you love/loathe about SXSW? Hit us up by replying to this email.

We're so glad you found us. Find our bios and contact info here, or reach out at hello@austindaily.com. Behind today's send: Katie Canales, Cat DeLaura, Mary Wasson and Randi Stevenson.