Austin's urban rail plan could wrap up in early 2014

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told members of the Transit Working Group on May 10 that the urban rail plan could be completed in early 2014 and potentially put before voters in a 2014 election.

"We talked about setting a tentative wrap-up date of mid-February, which would enable the City of Austin, if it chooses to do so, to put this on the ballot in May election," he said. "It's not necessarily my preference. ... November is the other option, and I know that gives us a lot more flexibility. I think it would be good to set that target and timetable to achieve that target."

Leffingwell spoke with Kyle Keahey, urban rail lead for Project Connect, before he was hired about the possibility of meeting that timeframe.

The TWG is a group formed by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to evaluate and provide input on regional transportation plans. The TWG has been meeting over the past two years to lay out the framework of the Project Connect regional transportation plan, which includes urban and commuter rail as well as the MetroRapid express bus system that Capital Metro is rolling out in 2014.

Keahey said the next step in the urban rail plan is to look at a range of alternatives for rail alignment and to explain where it would be more expensive to put rail and where ridership would improve.

"That's been a very important message we've heard from the community in our conversations over the past few weeks here," he said.

He said planning will also involve analyzing ridership and travel demands of the rail alignment as well as how and why the Project Connect team is selecting a particular route. There will also be a robust public involvement program, Keahey said.

"We've got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time," he said. "We don't have the time to be distracted, and so you're going to see in our project efforts a very clear focus on the objectives moving forward."

Timeline for Project Connect

The TWG completed conceptual plans for financing the $4 billion Project Connect plan as well as the organizational chart for which entities will oversee which parts of the plan. The TWG plans to submit a report to CAMPO, which has overall responsibility for transportation in the region. The TWG's final meeting before breaking for the summer is June 7 at 1:30 p.m. at Austin City Hall.

The next steps in the project include seeking endorsements from cities and other entities that could be partners and funders of the plan. The plan also includes five corridors that will each have its own study for a more detailed view of transportation projects and services in that area.

The project advisory group for the North Corridor—which highlights the area from MoPac and I-35 east to SH 130 and from downtown Austin to Georgetown—is preparing to reveal its final three corridor alternatives at a May 23 meeting.

Todd Hemingson, vice president of planning and development for Capital Metro and that agency's contact for the Project Connect technical team, said the North Corridor plan will flesh out the details and funding required to make the transportation projects and services happen.

By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and later senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels.


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