The reignited Project Connect regional transit study moved forward Monday after Capital Metro’s board of directors approved a list of corridors to analyze, including I-35.
The goal of Project Connect is to propose high-capacity transit in Central Texas, and efforts restarted in March 2016 with public input on potential corridors. The next phase will involve studying which transportation mode—including buses with priority transit treatments and light rail—is most appropriate in each corridor.
Some efforts under Project Connect are already underway in Williamson County, including bus service to Round Rock and in Georgetown, both beginning in August. In November 2014, efforts to put light rail in Austin failed when voters derailed a bond for a Project Connect proposal to put light rail in downtown Austin.
Here are four things to know about the reignited Project Connect efforts:
1. Bus service could be added on I-35.
Any service would likely be implemented in a set of new lanes that the Texas Department of Transportation would build on I-35 as part of its $4 billion plan to improve mobility on the highway.
“Other places across the country are putting high-end, [bus-rapid transit]-like service on freeways, and is there an opportunity here in Austin? TxDOT said, ‘We’ll look at it.’ [TxDOT Austin District Engineer] Terry McCoy gets that transit needs to be a part of I-35,” said Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro’s vice president of strategic planning and development.
Riders would access buses from in-line stations, meaning the stations would be on I-35, and riders would use pedestrian bridges or elevators to get to the stations from the street. At street level, riders could connect to I-35 from other bus routes or Park & Rides.
Stations are being considered at Tech Ridge, Rundberg Lane, 15th Street, Riverside Drive, Oltorf Street, Slaughter Lane and SH 45 SE.
2. Project Connect aims to create a system.
Unlike the failed rail bond that proposed a single rail line, the Project Connect plan will have a program of projects that could be implemented over time, Hemingson said.
Several corridors identified in Phase 1 would be further studied for high-capacity transit to connect to other transit routes. These corridors include Guadalupe Street, Airport Boulevard, Riverside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The Project Connect team is also studying mobility hubs, bus priority treatments and circulator routes.
3. Board members added corridors to Project Connect team’s original recommendations.
After hearing feedback from the public, Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who also sits on Capital Metro’s board, offered an amendment that the board approved to add Oltorf and Pleasant Valley Road.
“This is a long-range plan, and I think it’s important for the public to see now that we are thinking of these types of corridors, even if it’s not the first tier,” Kitchen said. “The second thing is that Pleasant Valley has been identified in the city of Austin’s corridor planning for the next round. Third, I’m particularly concerned about the southeast area, which is a growing part of the city, and we don’t have anything there for high-capacity transit.”
Kitchen’s approved amendment also included extending the North Lamar Boulevard corridor to Rundberg, the South Lamar Boulevard corridor to Manchaca Road and the South Congress Avenue corridor farther south.
4. A second MetroRail line could be in the future.
The Green Line is a long-planned route to Manor and Elgin on existing Capital Metro-owned tracks.
Hemingson said even though the route will be studied in Phase 2, it comes with many challenges, including future land use and density.
“If we want to see the Green Line happen, we need a concerted effort from the multiple land-use controllers to shape, have some kind of collective agreement to focus growth along the Green Line,” he said. “Absent that, it’s hard to make a case for it because the density is just not there.”