Three ballot measures to fund rail projects pass (updated and corrected)

Voters say yes to light rail, commuter rail expansion in Austin, agree to fund Caltrain; pass bond measure for DC Metro in Fairfax County, Va.
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Austin, Texas, voters approved a measure to build light rail in the city and add to its commuter rail operation.
TRAINS: David Lassen

Three local measures to fund rail agencies or construction have passed in Tuesday’s election, with voters saying yes in Austin, Texas; the San Francisco Bay Area; and Fairfax County, Va. A measure in the Portland, Ore., area was turned down while one in Gwinnett County, Ga., has yet to be decided.

Voters in Austin approved Proposition A, which will fund the $7.1 billion “Project Connect” transit plan which includes two new light rail lines, with a downtown subway section, and expansion of the city’s commuter rail. The Austin Statesman-American reports that as of early Wednesday morning, with almost all votes counted, more than 57% of the ballots cast favored the initiative. Mayor Steve Adler told the paper, “I am just really proud to live in a city that is so looking forward to its future, one that is saying emphatically that it will not accept the status quo.” Details on the project are available here.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Measure RR, which would provide a dedicated funding source for Caltrain commuter rail, appears to have passed, although by a razor-thin margin in one of the counties that needed to approve the measure by a two-thirds majority. With all precincts reporting, it had passed with 67.41% of the vote in Santa Clara County, and by a more comfortable margin in San Mateo County, with 72% of the vote. In the latest report from the City and County of San Francisco, as of midnight local time, it was receiving 74% of the vote. The measure, which will increase sales tax in the three counties by an eighth of a cent, could raise up to $100 million annually, SFGate.com reports. It made it onto the ballot after a tortured process in which it was approved by the counties involved at virtually the last minute [see “Digest: Brightline ends marketing agreement …,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 8, 2020].

The Fairfax County measure approved $160 million in bonds to pay for the county's portion of DC Metro capital projects passed emphatically, with 381,326 in favor and 181,843 against. The measure will pay for station improvements and new railcars, among other projects.

Voters in the Portland metro area turned down a $7 billion transit plan which would have included expansion of the MAX light rail system. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports Measure 26-218 would have added a three-quarters of a percent payroll tax in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, funding a total of 150 transit projects. Just under 57% of the 774,406 votes cast were against the measure.

By less than 2,000 of the almost 391,000 votes cast, voters in Gwinnett County, Ga., appeared to down their transit initiative, which WSB-TV reports would have created a 1% sales tax to fund transit projects for 30 years, including an extension of MARTA rail service into the county. The measure finished with 196,326 no votes, or 50.22% of those cast. While Gwinnett County’s election website shows 100% of the votes counted, the Gwinnett Daily Post reports 4,400 late-arriving absentee ballots and nearly 1,000 provisional ballots had not yet been counted on Wednesday.It was the second consecutive year Gwinnett voters turned down a transit measure; 54.3% of voters cast ballots against a 1% tax in a March 2019 special election [see “Suburban Atlanta County votes down transit measure,” News Wire, March 21, 2019].

— Updated at 6:20 p.m. CST to add Fairfax County, Va., measure and correct status of Gwinnett County, Ga., measure.
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