November 20, 2019
My granddaughter, Effie, turns 2 years old this week. She’s all we could hope for — cute, smart, sweet, funny, loaded with personality…well, think of something good and she’s that too. But I’m sure you already knew that.
She runs the show — and me. At the ripe old age of two, she can let you know how she feels about something pretty fast. For example, if she doesn’t want you to do something, she gives a specific look, holds up her index finger, wags it back and forth and tells you “no”. It’s a whole thing.
Pop (that’s me) is unique, however. When she communicates her lack of satisfaction with my decision making, she gives me the specific look and tells me “no.” But she wags both index fingers. It’s what her father calls “the rare double rebuke”. The girl owns me. And I love it.
Throughout my time in public service, I’ve been thinking about what we can and should do today to improve the futures of our children and our children’s children. Effie has definitely focused the mind on that goal. I call it the “Effie Effect.”
It’s hard to imagine what the Austin area will look like when Effie is an adult. But I can guarantee you that it’ll be crowded given that the population in the region is expected to double by 2040 when that sweet girl is only 23 years old. That’s the age I was when I arrived in Austin and began planning my future life. Are we doing what we can so that Effie will see the same potential quality of life and the same economic opportunity that we did?
Think traffic congestion is bad today? What will 2040 look like? Mobility is essential to quality of life and economic opportunity. Ensuring both for today’s kiddos is a generational challenge that requires a transformational investment.
We’ve done some very big things in this community because taxpayers have been open-minded, willing to look ahead and invest in the future.
We’ve repeatedly committed public dollars to protect water quality for future generations by forever setting aside environmentally sensitive lands. And in 2012, voters chose to make a major investment to improve healthcare for the underserved in Travis County and support a new medical school at the University of Texas.
Two decades ago, we made an investment in our community’s transportation infrastructure to ensure Austin was ready for the future by building a new airport at the site of an old Air Force base. Some of us have been in Austin long enough to remember the “old” airport at what is now the wonderful Mueller Development just off of I 35 and really in the center of town. Heck, I remember ducking as I drove on I-35 and planes were landing just off the highway and crossing the road. The ducking was an instinctive reaction. The planes weren’t really that low and I don’t think lowering my head would have helped anyway if they actually were that low.
At the time, the $550 million tab for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport seemed like a lot of money. (Yeah, it was, indeed, a lot of money.) But that seems like sofa-cushion money compared to what transformational transportation projects run today, 20 years later:
It’s never going to be cheaper than today for us to make a transformational transit investment in our community.
A few weeks ago, Capital Metro rolled out some eye-popping estimates for Project Connect, Capital Metro’s vision for bringing Austin’s transit system into the 21st Century. Initial estimates range up to nearly $10 billion — and that doesn’t include potential tunneling through downtown.
Without question, it will be a complicated, decade-long endeavor involving a multitude of difficult projects and many, many challenges. Taxpayers will be right to ask how this big vision can be delivered as promised in a timely and cost-effective manner.
The standard financing playbook isn’t going to work here. Nor will the typical oversight structure.
So as the City Council and Cap Metro delve into the details over the next couple of months, I believe they need to take clear steps to achieve the following:
Let’s face it — some folks will never be happy no matter what. While we need to avoid the naysayers, nitpickers and know-it-alls, we should take some key steps to create confidence among the folks who are willing to listen. For example, we need a joint governance structure that taps business and financial expertise, affords public accountability and allows for streamlined oversight that won’t get bogged down in the regular City Council process, the fight of the week or hearings where no one is hearing anything.
I absolutely believe that we have to do something big and bold on mobility — and soon — or we’ll sink under the weight of our economic success as a wonderful place to live, work, raise a family and grow a business.
Transformation won’t come easy or cheap and we won’t meet everyone’s concept of perfection. But I believe we can get it done…together.
I don’t want to earn the rare double rebuke from Effie’s generation because we didn’t get this done and done right.