As planning around the Project Connect transit system's rollout in Austin continues, Capital Metro is eyeing an expansion of its transit-oriented development strategy to house more people along future rail and bus routes.

Transit-oriented development, or TOD, brings a mix of housing and commercial space within a short distance of transit hubs with the goal of establishing walkable, dense and connected neighborhoods. TODs already in place in Austin are based around the east side's Plaza Saltillo and MLK Station, North Central Austin's Lamar Boulevard and Justin Lane area, and others. Austin is working to lay out its own equitable transit-oriented development, or ETOD, framework as Project Connect rail construction approaches.

On Nov. 17, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration announced Cap Metro will receive $900,000 in federal support to continue its TOD planning efforts related to the build-out of Project Connect's Orange, Blue and Green rail lines. The FTA said the grant, one of several the agency announced last month, is aimed at spurring future mixed-use development with affordable housing and bike and pedestrian connections.

“FTA’s Pilot Program for TOD Planning helps communities examine ways to improve economic development and multimodal connectivity,” FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez said in a statement. “When communities build new housing, retail, offices, and other construction near transit, they advance environmental justice and promote equity, particularly to underserved communities, by increasing access to opportunity and enabling and encouraging the creation and preservation of affordable housing.”

Cap Metro said it plans to use the funding to build more equitable and sustainable communities in the area. The transportation agency's goals are based on ETOD policy from Austin City Council.

"These grants are contributing to the creation of a systemwide ETOD strategy focusing on infrastructure development alongside affordable and attainable housing strategies. Deliverables included creation of case studies and existing conditions analysis and an extensive data and policy dashboard for all future light rail, commuter rail, and MetroRapid stations," Cap Metro Communications Specialist Blythe Nebeker said in an email.

Nebeker said the federal funding will help Cap Metro realize "the full potential of TODs" at two pilot sites: the North Lamar Transit Center and the agency's headquarters on East Fifth Street. The North Lamar facility is expected to be a northern hub of Project Connect's Orange and Blue lines north of downtown, while the Cap Metro headquarters could be in line for redevelopment as its own TOD district.

The Cap Metro campus is nearing staffing capacity as Project Connect activity ramps up, and the agency is considering its options for a relocation—work the federal funds will support. Cap Metro is also seeking to build a new facility to help meet its goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

"In order to be able to accommodate this future fleet and additional Project Connect programs, it is imperative that we look ahead and relocate our administration and service delivery functions to one integrated facility," Nebeker said. "The site repurpose plan is still in early consideration. This TOD grant will help us map out development and funding scenarios."

Studies into the creation of TODs will begin later next year centered on topics such as affordable housing opportunities, access to jobs, safe transit access, and addressing racial health and wellness gaps, Nebeker said.