Almost a year after officials revealed cost estimates for Project Connect had risen 77%, Austin Transit Partnership debuted five scaled-back options for the light rail system. The new plans each cost under $6 billion, and ATP is asking the community for feedback before choosing a plan to recommend in June.

The designs unveiled March 21 during an open house represent slimmed-down variations of the Project Connect system outline shared with the public in 2020. The scaled-back plans give the community one option with a connection to the airport or another underground tunnel downtown, but no plan includes both. All of the plans are scaled back with changes to route length, stops and planned lake crossings.

“This is an exciting day for Austin because our city is close to building a core Austin light rail that is equitable and helps our growing mobility needs,” ATP Executive Director Greg Canally said. “After decades of failing to make progress on light rail, in 2020 nearly 60% of voters sent a clear message that they want to invest in transit, specifically light rail. I am proud of the transparent and data-driven process ATP has conducted over these last months to develop these options. I encourage people to share their opinions with us.”

The reveal March 21 included what is being called the first phase of light rail in Austin, Canally said. The five options are available to view online at a virtual open house. All five options will be around the $5 billion price tag, Canally said during the meeting. Throughout the next six weeks, ATP will continue to survey the community to help inform its staff recommendation with a final option being chosen by the CapMetro board, the ATP board and Austin City Council in a joint meeting in early June.

For those unable to attend the open house in person, an email address at [email protected] has been set up to take public opinions into consideration as well as a website to accept comments. Additional in-person meetings will also be announced, officials said.

South Austin resident Deven Wilson showed up to the open house and said what he saw was a little disappointing.

“It feels like, one, they aren't really explaining that this is beneficial to use because of the schedule,” Wilson said. “It kind of feels like they're expecting it to be just as long as it was initially proposed. And then ... every plan doesn't seem to have any future building in mind for the extended rail or any kind of process for what to do once it' is complete.”

Another Austin resident, Kathy Clay, said she is glad to see none of the possible plans would cut through her property.

“It's going to stop at St. Edward's University,” Clay said. πIt doesn't affect me now, but it's hard to say because things could change very quickly. For now, I am relieved.”

Austin Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis, who also represents District 8 in Southwest Austin, said the options are good first iterations, and she will be in favor of the options that would improve accessibility for South Austin. She said she is also excited to be in a moment when the conversations about the beginning phases of the light rail are happening.

“Austin has always been a city fueled by the power and passion of its people,” Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said. “This light rail system is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help folks throughout Austin access jobs, health care, child care and everything that our city has to offer. Light rail has been an elusive goal for Austin for well over two decades, and now, thanks to the community working together, it’s really going to happen.”