Except for a 1-mile section built in 2013 and another included in the 2016 Mobility Bond, the proposal has lacked support to become a reality. But renewed support from Austin City Council and Capital Metro’s board of directors is helping breathe life into those plans.
The momentum behind the effort is from the Red Line Parkway Initiative, a nonprofit created in 2017 and spearheaded by Tom Wald, a local bicycle and pedestrian activist. He started having conversations with city staff in 2016 about the feasibility of building out the trail and realized the proposal needed a concerted vision to make it happen.
“There’s a real opportunity to go beyond a simple paved trail and really make it more of a loved place with pocket parks and larger parks with water features, retention ponds [and] detention ponds that could be converted and trail-oriented development,” he said.
The nonprofit’s mission is to help coordinate with all parties potentially affected by the trail, including the city of Austin and Capital Metro. In November, the board of directors for Capital Metro and Austin City Council both approved resolutions to formalize a partnership with the nonprofit and work toward the implementation of the trail.
Planning the trail
Initial conversations for a trail adjacent to the Red Line began around 2000 and ramped up in 2004 when city of Austin voters approved the Red Line. Capital Metro completed its Rail With Trail Feasibility Study in June 2007 that considered how a trail could fit into the railroad right of way.
A variety of factors contributed to Capital Metro not pursuing the trail, said Sam Sargent, the agency’s deputy chief of staff. These include a constrained right of way and the agency’s focus on other transit infrastructure and planning, such as the Project Connect regional plan.
“There are a lot more right of way constraints than the [agency’s] 2004 leadership realized,” Sargent said.
He said the agency continues to work with the city on planning efforts, including the latest portion of the trail that will be built. The city’s 2016 and 2018 bonds dedicate a total of $5 million for the preliminary engineering and design of the trail between Braker Lane and the Northern Walnut Creek Trail.
“Cap Metro is still working with the city on the development of the trail segment,” Sargent said. “We’re making sure there’s room for the trail and in the right of way and making sure it doesn’t preclude us from making Positive Train Control [safety signal system] work and double tracking.”
With a formalized partnership, Wald said the nonprofit will embark on a planning study he estimates to cost about $200,000. This study will look at alternatives for the alignment, cost estimates, funding sources and opportunities for parks.
“My estimation is we’ll have a product to start taking to the public about midway through next year,” he said.
In early 2020, Wald said the organization plans to engage more with nearby communities and work with the city on priorities for the anticipated 2020 transportation bond.