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AUSTIN – A new report by TexPIRG finds that transit systems in Austin, Houston and DFW eliminated the need for more than 44 million gallons of oil in 2006, saving consumers more $116 million in saved gasoline costs and avoiding emissions of 270,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. Austin transit also prevented what would have otherwise been an additional 1.7 million hours in traffic delays for drivers. The group pointed to the findings as evidence that further investments in transit, in particular the creation of an ultra light rail system for downtown Austin, will help reduce oil dependency and save consumers money.
“Transit has a proven track record in reducing oil dependence, traffic congestion, and global warming pollution,” said Colin McKellips of TexPIRG. “It’s time to kick it up a notch and create a 21st century transit network for Austin, starting with ultra-light rail for downtown.”
The TexPIRG report, A Better Way to Go: Meeting America’s 21st Century Transportation Challenges with Modern Public Transit, examines the challenges faced by America’s transportation system and the benefits of existing rail and bus projects in Austin and other cities across Texas. Around the country transit saved 3.4 billion gallons of oil that year, prevented 541 million hours of traffic delay and reduced global warming pollution by 26 million tons. Demand for public transportation is booming nationally, with transit trips far outpacing the growth of auto miles or population since 1995.
Construction of an ultra light rail, or streetcar, proposal, to connect downtown with the airport and UT Campus, has long been championed by Mayor Wynn and the Capitol Area Metro Planning Organization (CAMPO), led by Sen. Kirk Watson. In June 2005, the Transit Policy Board adopted the CAMPO 2030 Plan, which serves as a guide for transportation policies, projects and programs over the next 25 years. The approval of an ultra-light rail circulator, which could be placed before voters this November, has since been a key focus for the regional planning group. Community groups have also supported the project as a way to stimulate growth and limit sprawl while allowing residents to access downtown without getting stuck in traffic.
According to the Texas Transportation Institute, Austin stands as the 13th worst metro area in America for congestion. Austin’s public transit system, though limited, still made a big difference in improving congestion. Ridership on Austin’s public transportation in 2005 prevented what would have otherwise been an additional 1.7 million hours in traffic delays for drivers – or an additional 4 hours for every commuter in the region.
National public opinion polls show that 53 percent of commuters would take public transportation if it were easily available near their home and workplace. Likewise, 75 percent tell pollsters that transit and building communities that require less driving are best way to fight traffic congestion.
“Austin is one of the best places in the world to live,” said McKellips. “But as our city grows, traffic, sprawl and pollution threatens to undermine our quality of life. A new rail network will make it easier to get around town, get polluting cars off the road, and help keep Austin unique “
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