Forum informs residents of possible regional mass transit solutions

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An April 5 forum on the Southwestern University campus in Georgetown sought to educate residents and seek public opinion on regional mass transit solutions.

Project Connect—a collaboration of regional partners including representatives from the City of Austin, Lone Star Rail District, Capital Metro, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and various other cities, including Pflugerville, Round Rock and Georgetown—is a regional transportation plan that aims to find viable solutions to traffic problems in Central Texas. The project, which the partners have worked on for more than a year, centers on high-capacity mass transit solutions that will be able to transport large groups to various areas.

“We have congestion issues not only going in and out of [Austin’s] core, but in other areas like Round Rock and Georgetown and certain corridors,” said John-Michael Cortez, manager of community involvement for Capital Metro. “Not everyone in Georgetown needs to go to downtown Austin. Some want to go to Leander or San Marcos. So we need to connect [cities]together.”

Cortez outlined Project Connect’s goals at the forum, introducing ideas for regional, commuter and urban rail, bus rapid transit, and express lanes for transit. He said the options were “congestion proof,” meaning they operate on a dedicated lane or right-of-way, and/or have priority in traffic, including equipping buses with the ability to send signals to traffic lights to expedite route times.

The project’s proposed rail will aim to bridge the gaps between downtown Austin and other regional cities, including Round Rock, Pflugerville and Georgetown. The transit option should help residents commuting between cities and people who want to visit central Austin get to their destinations more efficiently.

Project Connect is also looking at making bus transportation more efficient by setting aside lanes specifically for mass transit.

“We’re not talking about local fixed route buses,” Cortez said. “We’re talking about big stuff that moves a lot of people faster and more reliably, especially at rush hour.”

He said Project Connect has garnered community support for coordinated, high-capacity transportation options. Specific resident concerns include making the options convenient for traveling to and from both home and work, increased access into downtown Austin and surrounding cities and more transit options.

“What we heard … was there’s general support for this,” Cortez said. “People really want options for how to get around Central Texas. People especially desire increased access from other cities … into downtown Austin, because that’s were a lot of employment is, but they also want connections between those centers.”

A panel that includes Georgetown Transportation Service Director Ed Polasek, Round Rock Transportation Director Gary Hudder and Pflugerville Assistant City Manager Trey Fletcher discussed how Project Connect’s proposed transit solutions could affect the cities. The leaders agreed the areas’ growth, as well as the need to transport residents to social services, make Project Connect’s transit solutions a possibility. However, all cited funding concerns for building, operating and maintaining the options.

“If funding was easy, everyone would be doing it,” Polasek said.

Project Connect plans to continue working with area leaders and residents to gather feedback on its projects and find the most viable solution to easing Central Texas’ traffic problems. For more information on Project Connect, visit www.connectcentraltexas.com.

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