Construction for Austin’s 9.8-mile Project Connect light rail system is slated to kick off in 2027, Austin Transit Partnership, the government entity responsible for building the rail, announced March 22.

Trains could be up and running throughout Central Austin by 2033, ATP said; however, the group faces challenges ahead, including securing federal dollars and resolving a lawsuit aiming to stymie the plan.

The details

ATP leaders plan to secure all federal funding, which is expected to cover half of the project's expenses, by 2026. ATP began applying for the federal cash via the Capital Investments Grant New Starts program March 11.

ATP Executive Director Greg Canally said the grant is competitive, and Austin’s light rail project is contingent on receiving it.

“But it's really exciting for us because that process we feel confident will lead to bringing billions of dollars of federal money here to Texas and here to Austin to invest in transit and invest in economic opportunities,” Canally said.

The breakdown

ATP expects the Project Connect light rail to cost $7.1 billion at completion in 2033, up from its previous estimate of $4.8 billion in 2022. Canally said the new number doesn’t reflect an increase in project costs but rather ATP planning for inflation. ATP’s previous cost estimates reflected how much the project would cost in current year dollars, not how much it would cost when those funds are actually spent.

“The important thing to know is Austin light rail costs remain unchanged, and the project is on budget, and we can build all the 10 miles,” Canally said. “But we have to anticipate what the costs will be in the future in four or five years when we buy the trains. And so we want to reflect that in our year of expenditure cost estimates.”

The $7.1 billion will be spent as follows:
  • $3.19 billion for construction and engineering
  • $1.86 billion for professional services
  • $1.11 billion for trains and ATP’s maintenance facility, currently planned for the Montopolis neighborhood
  • $937 million for real estate acquisition
The context

ATP's recent budget and timeline announcement coincides with the organization navigating a lawsuit challenging its funding system. Five plaintiffs, referred to by Canally as a "vocal few," filed a lawsuit in November alleging that ATP pulled what is described as a "bait and switch" tactic on Austin voters and is inappropriately using taxpayer dollars. The lawsuit will be taken up by a Travis County judge May 28.

What’s next

ATP just wrapped up a public engagement process that was held throughout February and March. ATP will release a report outlining its findings from that process later this spring.

This fall, ATP will put out its environmental impact statement, which will include details on where specific stops and stations are located and other details.