A 9.5-mile urban rail route from Highland Mall to Riverside Drive would cost about $1.38 billion in 2020 dollars, Project Connect planning team members said.

"We feel very confident this is highly competitive project," Urban Rail Lead Kyle Keahey said.

During the May 2 meeting of the Central Corridor Advisory Group—led by Mayor Lee Leffingwell—Keahey presented the planning team's recommendation of the route with 16 stations and an estimated daily ridership of 16,000–20,000. The team recommended urban rail instead of a bus-rapid transit system similar to MetroRapid, which launched Jan. 26 on Lamar Boulevard and Congress Avenue.

Included in the $1.38 billion price tag is $175 million for a multimodal bridge to cross Lady Bird Lake and lay tracks through 17th Street, $220 million to tunnel under Capital Metro's Red Line near the Hancock Center and $43 million to purchase nine rail cars.

Crossing the lake with a bridge instead of tunneling underneath was a decision that came down to viability with the Federal Transit Administration. Keahey said the FTA is not keen on funding projects that include tunnels because of their tendency to go over budget.

The one caveat of choosing the bridge over a tunnel is the displacement of the Waller Creek Boat House, which the city Parks and Recreation Department owns.

"The boat house is the one casualty of this," Keahey said. "We don't believe we would be able to go over the boathouse."

He said the urban rail proposal is consistent with the city's East Riverside corridor plans as well as The University of Texas at Austin's master plan to put tracks on San Jacinto Boulevard. In downtown rail would use Trinity Street.

"We're still providing two through lanes," said Scott Gross, the city's urban rail program manager. "There will be impacts. There will be a loss of parking, but we think they're manageable."

After passing through UT, the route would use Dean Keeton, Red River and 41st streets and Airport Boulevard and terminate on the east side of Highland Mall.

Keahey said the route would tunnel under the MetroRail line on the east side of the Hancock Center where there would be an open-cut belowground station. He added that an additional aboveground MetroRail station could be built nearby to provide opportunity for transfers.

During the May 16 CCAG meeting, the Project Connect team will present funding and phasing options for the project as well as what agencies will oversee the system. CCAG plans to vote on the recommended route June 13, and City Council is scheduled to take action on it June 26. Council has until mid-August to call a bond for the Nov. 4 election to ask voters to approve funding.

For more information, visit www.projectconnect.com.