Total Project Connect costs could range from $4.7B-$9.8B for expanding transit in Austin area

Project Connect proposes to expand MetroRapid throughout Austin.

Project Connect proposes to expand MetroRapid throughout Austin.

Image description
Project Connect vision map
Capital Metro officials released the estimated costs and potential ridership numbers Oct. 29, a day ahead of a joint meeting with city officials, to discuss expanding transit in the Austin area.

The transit plan, called Project Connect, outlines the vision for adding high-capacity transit such as light rail or bus-rapid transit in dedicated lanes to the Austin region.

Project Connect staffers have been meeting with residents for years gathering input on routes, mode options and transit needs, culminating in the vision map.

“For some people the fact that we’re talking billions of dollars might be a new idea,” said Jackie Nirenburg, Project Connect community engagement manager. “It’s a paradigm shift.”

Because a mode of transportation has not yet been selected, estimated costs for the plan range from $4.7 billion-$9.8 billion. However, because Capital Metro expects to receive federal funding for 40% of those costs, the local portion of funding would be about $2.8 billion-$5.9 billion.

Project Connect is being designed to build off of Capital Metro’s existing system of bus and rail services as well as its newest on-demand bus service called Pickup, Project Connect Program Manager Dave Couch said.

“It gives us that base starting point for the system,” he said. “This really is an expansion.”

About 4% of the region’s population uses transit on a daily basis to commute, according to Capital Metro. The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, approved by City Council in April, aims to quadruple that figure to 16% by 2039.

“The way to achieve that [goal] is by having those high-capacity dedicated lanes,” Couch said.

Capital Metro and city staff have been meeting weekly to discuss how these dedicated lanes would operate on city streets.

Because the Project Connect map and plans are still proposals, residents have time to provide input and weigh in on their preferred options, Nirenburg said. She said existing feedback has been incorporated into the draft plan.

“We’re funneling into the final alternative that will be recommended using community input and technical analysis and not to mention conversations with the policymakers who have to set the tone and policy on how this will move forward,” she said.

Project Connect is hosting several open house events in November for residents to learn more about the plan. Additional information about the events is available at www.capmetro.org/get-involved.

Here are other details of the plan:


Orange and Blue lines


The spine of the Project Connect plan are the Orange and Blue high-capacity transit lines. These routes would consist of bus-rapid transit in dedicated lanes or light rail. The Orange Line is essentially the same route as the MetroRapid Route 801 that operates on North Lamar Boulevard and South Congress Avenue. The Blue Line is a similar path proposed in 2014 on Riverside Drive. However, it would begin at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and continue to The University of Texas and potentially to Austin Community College’s Highland campus.

This is what affects the cost ranges the most. Choosing bus-rapid transit for the Orange and Blue lines would cost $3.2 billion-$5.5 billion, and going with light rail would cost $6.3 billion-$8.1 billion.

Expanding MetroRapid


Proposed new MetroRapid routes, which are bus-rapid transit lines that do not solely operate in dedicated lanes, would be added to the system. Routes are proposed for Parmer Lane, connecting Tech Ridge with ACC Highland, to Oak Hill, to McKinney Falls and to the Travis County Exposition Center.

Expanding MetroRapid would cost an estimated $150 million-$170 million.

Other transit options, infrastructure


Also included in the plan are other transit options, such as adding the MetroRail Green Line to Manor, investing in additional MetroRail Red Line upgrades, adding neighborhood circulars, and building Park & Rides and other support facilities.

In total, these other transit options, facilities and the new MetroRapid routes would cost a total of $1.5 billion-$1.7 billion.

Public comment continues


In January, Capital Metro officials expect to announce the recommended plan. Public comment is ongoing and will be used in the determination of the final plan. City Council could then decide to call an election for November 2020 to fund the plan.

No matter the mode selected, the entire system will be electrified.

“Everything we do moving to the future for Project Connect is something that would be electrical,” Couch said. “We’re moving away from the diesel fleet. It is something that would be electric, whether it is buses, rail.”
By Amy Denney
Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and then senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition and covering transportation. She is now managing editor for the nine publications in the Central Texas area.


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