Project Connect planners held a virtual discussion April 12 regarding the proposed Orange Line project— a 20-mile north-south light rail line that will travel along Lamar Boulevard and Congress Avenue from the Tech Ridge Park & Ride at Howard Lane south to Slaughter Lane.
The Orange Line is one of two light rail transit corridors planned as part of Project Connect, the city’s $7.1 billion public transportation vision plan approved by voters in 2020. Along with the Blue Line— an 8.2-mile light rail line that will run between Republic Square in downtown Austin to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport— the Orange Line will serve as the spine of a new regional high-capacity transit network.
The April 12 workshop focused on the southern edge of the Orange Line project between the William Cannon Station and Slaughter Transit Center.
Most of the area between William Cannon and Slaughter will feature dedicated bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the road, according to Orange Line planners. Tree and furniture zones will be located between the bike lanes and sidewalks and the light rail line except in areas that may have right of way impacts. There will be two travel lanes in each direction on either side of the light rail line with dedicated left turns wherever there are signalized intersections. Left turns will not be allowed without signalized intersections along the length of the corridor.
A light rail station will be built just north of Ralph Ablanedo Drive near the Far Out Lounge and Stage. The station will service northbound and southbound trains. A CapMetro Park & Ride is planned near Hubach Lane. A signalized intersection and shared-use paths will be constructed along Ralph Ablanedo to allow pedestrians and cyclists access to the Park & Ride.
Bus stops will be located on either side of Congress Avenue near its intersections with Foremost Drive, Dittmar Road, Meadow Lea Drive and Cloudview Drive.
Orange Line planners said the construction in this area will not affect nearby businesses, such as the Collective and Last Stand Brewing.
There will be two light trail platforms on either side of the intersection of William Cannon and Congress, one serving northbound trains and one serving southbound trains. Including two platforms on either side of the road was a design choice made to minimize right of way impacts, according to planners. Bus stops will be located on either side of the road at the intersection of Congress and Little Texas Lane to the north of the proposed William Cannon station.
A light rail station at Stassney Lane and Congress will mark the end of the Orange Line initial investment plan, but Project Connect planners will still go through the process of environmental clearance for the area south of Stassney in case more funding for light rail service becomes available. An additional Park & Ride is also proposed at Stassney.
The Orange and Blue lines are both at 15% design completion and have entered the early stages of Federal Transit Authority project development, which include conducting environmental reviews and drafting preliminary engineering plans. The Orange Line working group aims to draft an environmental impact statement and a 30% design and segment phasing plan by summer. The final resolution of that plan will occur in fall with the final environmental impact statement released and the FTA record of decision secured by winter or early 2023.
Despite a recent 77% jump in Project Connect cost estimates, the Orange Line working group expressed confidence that the transit plan will still be able to receive adequate funding.
“This is not going to hit your pocketbook anymore than it already is,” Austin Transit Partnership representative Jackie Nirenberg said. “We fully expect that with the tax rate election mechanism that you so wonderfully approved as a community, we’ll be able to fund all projects in the program. ... We still have not gotten word on our funding from the FTA, and that will be a big chunk that we can expect.”