Capital Metro and the City of Austin are teaming up to install transit priority lanes on Lavaca and Guadalupe streets to allow Capital Metro's MetroRapid buses to travel with fewer interruptions along the two corridors.
Capital Metro will begin operations in 2014 of its MetroRapid bus service, composed of two rapid-transit bus routes. The first route will run along North Lamar Boulevard and South Congress Avenue from the Tech Ridge Park and Ride to the Southpark Meadows Retail Center. The second route will begin at the North Austin Medical Center and will travel along Burnet Road to South Lamar Boulevard, ending at the Westgate Retail Center. Near downtown, the routes cross one another, allowing for access to both.
Although the priority lanes, which would extend between Cesar Chavez Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard, would be primarily for buses, automobiles would also be able to access the lane in certain situations, said Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro vice president of strategic planning and development.
"They can't run up and down the lane as they could with a normal lane, but in the case where there is a right-hand turn, an auto, as the [lane is] currently planned, could get into the lane for the sole purpose of making the right-hand turn," he said.
Capital Metro said it is not yet clear how exactly the lanes would operate and how much they will cost to design and construct.
"We're just in the very conceptual stages in the discussions with the city about a priority lane," Capital Metro Project Manager Ken Cartwright said.
Capital Metro is aiming to have the lanes ready when MetroRapid begins operations.
Capital Metro has pledged $50,000 out of its general fund for design and construction of the lanes. As part of the partnership, it has also agreed to reimburse the city about $320,000 for project management and construction inspection fees related to code compliance on the MetroRapid project and not specifically to the priority lanes, Cartwright said.
The city also plans to implement its Great Streets Program to the Lavaca and Guadalupe corridors, which, among other changes, would extend the sidewalk and remove the parking spaces on the right-hand side of the streets.
A city spokesperson said planning and design would be done concurrently to ensure that the Great Streets and the priority lanes projects complement each other.
The partnership also marks an important step for the two entities, which have received criticism for not working in tandem enough in the past.
"We recognize our buses run on city streets, and so we have to work together, and we are working together. I think we are showing some success there," Hemingson said.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell said at a Transit Working Group meeting, a group composed of regional transit experts, that he had spoken with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, who said to get federal grants, transportation agencies and public departments needed to work together more.
"The big problem has been, continues to be, we have a lot of different organizations that are in the transportation business, and oftentimes we are not talking to each other directly and ask for these things, and oftentimes they seem to be conflicting messages. I got the very strong impression that that was a big turnoff for him," Leffingwell said. "So the message was, 'Get your act together, coordinate our local agencies, coordinate your plan, [and] coordinate your requests.'"
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that Capital Metro would begin operating the MetroRapid service prior to installation of the lanes.