Capital Metro, transit advocates aim to gain momentum on rail planning
More than a year after voters turned down Austin’s $1 billion urban rail and roads bond, transit advocates, including Capital Metro planners, are hoping rail planning can gain steam.
During the city’s Urban Transportation Commission meeting Dec. 8, members heard updates on improvements to the MetroRail Red Line and proposed Green Line to Elgin, Lone Star Rail District’s proposed commuter line connecting San Antonio to Georgetown, Capital Metro’s high-capacity transit planning in the downtown core, and a light rail proposal on Guadalupe Street and North Lamar Boulevard.
UTC members agreed to discuss rail planning efforts at a future meeting where someone from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization—which coordinates regional transportation planning—could answer questions about how the plans could work together.
“I don’t want to wait another 14 years [for a rail bond],” UTC member Jonathon “JD” Gins said. “I want to send a sense of urgency. Some of these plans have already been out there for a long time. This is the first time they all were presented alongside each other in one meeting. I want to make sure we’re working together on all these ideas.”
Central Corridor study
Javier Arguello, Capital Metro’s director of long-range planning, said the city’s transit agency plans to use the remaining $3 million in federal and local dollars from the previous bond election to start a new process for examining high-capacity transit, which includes rail, in the downtown area.
After two failed rail bonds in 2000 and 2014, Arguello said Capital Metro does not want to repeat the same mistakes, and this time it will rely heavily on the community for input. He said the data compiled during the Central Corridor planning process for the rail bond would be used again and reanalyzed.
“How do we address those particular problems the community has already identified?” he said. “We will concentrate on that. It’s just one example the community has highlighted as immediate actions Capital Metro and their partners have to respond to.”
The new process will have four scopes, Arguello said:
Improve existing high-capacity transit investments, including MetroRapid: Arguello said the community has requested better amenities near the line’s stations to be more successful. This include more lighting and wayfinding signs.
Look at future high-capacity transit investments in the Central Corridor: Arguello said during the rail bond planning only one of 10 possible rail corridors was chosen. He said the process will revisit all 10 of those corridors.
Develop a financial plan: This would include public-private partnerships, grants and local funding, Arguello said.
Incorporate community involvement: Arguello said the new Central Corridor process will use existing Capital Metro service plans and partner with its 2025 service plan update that is underway.
“We will identify approaches for each corridor and the cost to show a complete picture of what the system in the Central Corridor will be in the future,” he said.
Gins recommended Capital Metro tries another brand for the new process.
“The well has been poisoned on [the name Project Connect],” he said.
He said he believes voters would approve more money for rail, but for a bond to be successful, voters need to know how they could benefit from rail.
“We ignore the suburbs,” Gins said. “People hate the traffic, but if you need the voters in Circle C and Northwest Hills, then we have to show what’s in it for them.”
Scott Morris, a rail advocate and director of the Central Austin Community Development Corporation—an organization that aims to make the city a livable, safe and diverse community—brought his citywide light rail system proposal to the meeting.
Morris and many others opposed the city’s rail bond because of the proposed route along East Riverside Drive, Trinity Street and Red River Street to the Austin Community College Highland Campus. Instead he supported a route along Guadalupe Street and North Lamar Boulevard.
That route was one of the top 10 proposals recommended by the community in the MobilityATX initiative designed to gather solutions to traffic congestion. Civic Analytics worked with the CACDC to create a new light rail route using 2010 Census blocks. The groups plotted the densest areas and connected the dots using major arterials.
What resulted was a line with termini at North Lamar and Rundberg Lane and at Pleasant Valley Road and William Cannon Drive. The route would run along Lamar, Guadalupe, East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley. Within a half-mile of the route 136,450 people would be served as well as 171,206 jobs.
Future phases could include routes to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and to the intersection of Hwys. 290 and 71, and connect to the MetroRail Red and Green lines and Lone Star Rail.
“We think it’s very doable to just have the engineering for the minimum operable segment passed in [a 2016 bond] to authorize the city to fund that,” Morris said, adding another bond could fund the construction.
Included in CAMPO’s 2040 long-range transportation plan is a line item for $498 million for high-capacity transit in the downtown Austin area.
“CAMPO planners had the initiative to put high-capacity transit in the 2040 plan,” Morris said. “They have not given up on high-capacity transit in the Central Corridor.”