Austin's Project Connect rail and rapid bus system remains in development, and transit planners are readying to share new, potentially scaled-back, designs with the community.

Get involved

The Austin Transit Partnership, the governmental entity formed to manage Project Connect's rollout alongside the city and Capital Metro, will host an open house March 21 to share new information about the light rail network.

The ATP community event will run from 4-7 p.m. at the Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St., Austin. More information and event registration is available online, and residents needing special accommodations can call 512-904-0180 to arrange those services.

The background

After several failed attempts to bring a more robust rail system to Austin, voters approved a permanent tax hike in 2020 to fund Project Connect. The project is expected to bring two light rail lines and several new rapid bus routes to the city, followed later by a commuter rail line linking Northeast Austin to downtown.

While the development of some of the program's MetroRapid bus routes has begun, that service was recently delayed. Designs for new rail lines are not yet complete, and construction is still a ways off; previous projections set 2024 as a potential starting point for that work.

Public engagement over portions of Project Connect from station designs to rail line layouts progressed through last spring, when planners announced billions of dollars in cost increases over initial projections. That update led to a recalibration of the program's next steps, including light rail, that has yet to be detailed in public.

CapMetro and the ATP are now laying out Project Connect under permanent leadership after both agencies were working under interim directors since last year.

What's next

The scope of the proposed rail lines has yet to be finalized, and planners are also working to secure billions in federal funding needed to support the transit investment.

No further community briefings or discussions are currently scheduled beyond the March 21 open house, but ATP and CapMetro leaders have said they will be soliciting more input from Austinites as planning continues.

However that work proceeds, Project Connect could also face new state-imposed hurdles if proposals aimed at entities like the ATP are approved by the Texas Legislature. Twin bills filed this session take aim at the ATP's ability to go out for bonds—identified as a key option for Project Connect's local funding in addition to the voter-approved tax collections—without calling an election for approval.

Neither House Bill 3899 from state Rep. Ellen Troxclair nor Senate Bill 1791 from state Sen. Pual Bettencourt have seen movement at the Capitol so far since they were filed March 7.

Mayor Kirk Watson said in a March 13 newsletter that the proposals would likely make Project Connect's development impossible by driving costs "through the roof." He said he is working with lawmakers to avoid that outcome while ensuring more transparency as the system is developed.