Planning for high-capacity transit, such as rapid bus and rail, in Austin’s core is back on the table after a Capital Metro board of directors vote Jan. 25.

The board approved a 30-month, $3 million contract with engineering firm AECOM Technical Services, which has offices in Austin, to study existing and new high-capacity transit options and develop a multimodal system in the Central Corridor, bounded by Hwy. 290 to the south, MoPac to the west, RM 2222/Koenig Lane to the north and the MetroRail Red Line to the east.

“We are going to be looking at existing high-capacity transit investments, meaning MetroRapid, MetroRail, and will work with the community to look at what are we missing,” said Javier Arguello, Capital Metro’s director of long-range planning.

He said the contract will involve a “hefty” public involvement campaign to identify solutions to existing problems, how to implement those solutions, identify funding and gain support for the solutions. Although the contract gives AECOM 30 months to complete the study, Arguello said Capital Metro could move forward on solutions sooner than that.

“There may be some quick champion programs that we’ll be moving faster than the second part of the scope of the award, which is basically looking at new high-capacity transit,” Arguello said.

Planning efforts are still a part of the overarching Project Connect regional transportation vision plan, which Arguello said most people do not realize is still active. The North Corridor plan was unveiled in April 2014, and Capital Metro is working with cities in north Travis County and Williamson County to gain support and funding for new services.

Funding comes from the remaining $3.2 million leftover from development the urban rail plan voters defeated in November 2014 rail bond. The city of Austin received a $4 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, with a $1 million local match requirement.

In February, Capital Metro will begin public input on its Connections 2025 service plan it just launched. That will look at improving existing service, where to add new service and how to accommodate growth in the region.

"The purpose of it is to study our service area—with an emphasis on bus service—the service we provide and then look at what’s changed in the last five years since we’ve done it before," Capital Metro President and CEO Linda Watson said. "There’s been such tremendous growth and development. There’s been so many changes that we think this is going to be huge for us."

Connections 2025 planning will wrap up in the fall, and Watson said service changes could be implemented starting in January 2017.

Arguello said the Central Corridor study will work with the Connections 2025 planning efforts as well as the city’s Mobility Plan that will look at its street network. Arguello said Capital Metro is additionally in the midst of a feasibility study to expand MetroRail beyond one line.

“There’s a lot of pieces and there’s going to be a lot of coordination, so we will come together with one unified approach that responds to the community’s concerns,” he said.

Capital Metro board member Ann Kitchen, who also sits on Austin City Council, asked for the board to be briefed monthly on progress on the Central Corridor planning efforts. Public input is slated to begin in mid- to late March.