Capital Metro FY 2016 budget includes service on MoPac toll lanes, MetroRail upgrades, new buses


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MetroRail downtown stationUpgrades to Capital Metro's commuter rail line, MetroRail, are included in the fiscal year 2015-16 budget. These upgrades include adding a second track near some stations and overall improvements will double capacity and frequency.Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper
MetroRail downtown station

Included in Capital Metro’s $357.2 million fiscal year 2015-16 budget are some big-ticket items such as MetroRail upgrades, replacing aging buses and adding Express bus service on the MoPac toll lanes.

The board of directors unanimously approved the FY 2016 budget Sept. 28 as well as the agency’s five-year plan.

Between fiscal years 2016-20, Capital Metro will spend about $404 million on capital improvement projects, agency Chief Financial Officer Leslie Browder said. About $156.8 million will be spent on vehicles and $172 million will be spent on the commuter rail line, according to budget documents.

• operating Express bus service on the MoPac toll lanes when those open in 2016

• starting work to add double tracking to MetroRail and other rail improvements to double the frequency and capacity of the commuter rail line

• expanding capacity at the Lakeline and Howard Park & Rides

• purchasing new clean-diesel buses to support the high-frequency route network the agency launched on five bus routes in June

• replacing buses and vans for its existing bus routes and MetroAccess, the agency’s service for passengers with disabilities

• completing a four-year plan to make bus stops more accessible

Board chair Wade Cooper said the two mainstays of the agency’s revenues, fares and sales tax, are just enough to cover operating expenses. He added the agency is not as flush with cash as some in the public might think especially given the five-year $404 million capital improvement plan.

“It’s an interesting time for us to really think about what our priorities are,” he said. “I think the service plan discussion we’re going to have really presents straight up an opportunity for us to think about our priorities because we’re challenged [financially].”

On Sept. 14 the board approved a contract with Transportation Management and Design to lead the creation of its 2025 service plan, which Capital Metro anticipates completing in fall 2016 and implementing in 2017.

Board members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen—both of whom are also on Austin City Council—requested staff to keep prioritizing adding new Park & Ride facilities.

“I just wanted to confirm that there are opportunities during the year to make amendments to the capital budget in particular in relation especially to Park & Rides,” Kitchen said.

Browder confirmed the board can make amendments to the budget and said those typically occur in January.

“I’m trying to tackle on front end to say [to developers], ‘Well that project is great [but] can you add a Park & Ride to that?’ she said. “… I’m wondering what the process would be to keep these things moving along.”

Browder said in the five-year plan the agency had originally worked in three Park & Ride facilities in fiscal year 2018-19 but is trying to accelerate that based on the board’s priorities.