With a $50 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation, Capital Metro is moving forward with plans to double the capacity and frequency of its MetroRail commuter line.

TxDOT approved the grant in June to assist Capital Metro, the city of Austin’s transit authority, in purchasing four new rail vehicles and building a permanent downtown station and pedestrian plaza adjacent to the Austin Convention Center. An $11.3 million federal grant and about $18 million of Capital Metro’s own money will go toward adding a second set of tracks at three rail stations, including the Lakeline Station, and signal upgrades.

Upgrading MetroRail is Capital Metro’s No. 1 priority, President and CEO Linda Watson said.

“We’ll also be doing additional rail and signal work to upgrade both of those so we can operate at faster speeds, pass trains and accommodate freight,” she said. “As a result of that we’ll be able to double our frequency and capacity during peak [hours].”

Capital Metro expects the expanded capacity to increase ridership on MetroRail. It is planning to address existing and future capacity issues at its Lakeline and Howard Park & Ride facilities, both of which averaged 112 percent capacity in 2014.

“People are basically parking in the aisles,” said Joe Clemens, senior long-range planner hired to assist the agency with its Park & Ride analysis. “They’re not in spaces anymore. People are coming in and parking where they can.”

Nationwide data shows rail park-and-ride facilities on average reach 70 to 85 percent capacity, according to a Jan. 26 Capital Metro report. In comparison, the Leander Park & Ride’s 635 parking spots were 46 percent occupied in 2014.

Capital Metro plans to spend $1.2 million in fiscal year 2014–15 to design the expansion to the Lakeline Park & Ride and grow the lot from 485 parking spots to 985 spots. Construction is expected to begin in fiscal year 2015–16.

The Lakeline lot is one of 14 Park & Ride facilities Capital Metro either owns or leases. The agency’s long-term vision is to build at least four more facilities in Williamson County as part of the Project Connect North Corridor regional transit plan that extends from Austin to Georgetown.

Watson said Capital Metro can further boost its Park & Ride system and limited-stop express bus service when the new MoPac toll lanes open in the fall.

“We’ll be able to zip people into downtown from the north part of the community,” she said. “I think that’s going to be a big success and a huge benefit to people commuting every day.”