Capital Metro is about two months away from breaking ground on a project that will overhaul its smallest yet busiest MetroRail station.
The project, slated to break ground in late March, includes building a new platform on Fourth Street between Neches and Red River streets, expanding to three tracks, constructing a new bridge over Waller Creek and adding a public plaza.
After construction finishes in two years, Capital Metro will be able to boost the frequency and capacity of the MetroRail line in conjunction with adding double tracking and purchasing new vehicles, which the agency has already completed.
Capital Metro also has had to make some design changes and scale back the scope of the project. These changes include reducing the number of canopies from seven to five, removing the ticketing kiosk and reducing the length of the proposed third track, Project Manager Marcus Guerrero said.
“Some of the main reasons of [changing]the design is that the cost of construction higher than we anticipated,” he said.
Guerrero said contractors bidding on the project said several factors contribute to higher construction costs. These include a nationwide shortage of skilled labor, higher prices of steel and imposed tariffs.
The transit agency has seen some cost savings. Capital Metro and the city will split an estimated $6 million cost to upgrade a stormwater pipe below ground from 30 inches to 60 inches. In December, Austin City Council agreed to waive $1 million in fees and approved the encroachment and easement agreements that also saved about $13 million.
A $22 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation awarded in 2014 will cover most of the cost of the new station.
Jumping the last hurdle
Even with the groundbreaking just a couple of months out, the transit agency has to clear at least one more hurdle.
Capital Metro will have to follow the city’s water quality regulations that stipulate the agency will have to handle debris and dirt from water runoff. An existing city-constructed water quality pond off Third Street near Red River Street is not working properly, Guerrero said.
The city gave Capital Metro two options: either build its own water quality pond on Fourth Street, or pay to fix the existing water quality pond. Because Fourth Street is entirely impervious, meaning it does not allow water to pass through, Capital Metro is appealing for a waiver so it can get its construction permit, Guerrero said. If the city denies the permit, Capital Metro will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix the pond.
Eric Stratton, the newly appointed Capital Metro board member, said the issues Capital Metro has faced with the pond concern him.
“As the partner on this project, I’m concerned that we shouldn’t have to go with all of these steps, including an appeal for a permit, when we are the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority,” he said. “We’re not a private business or a developer downtown. We are another entity of government.”