Plans leaked detailing CapMetro’s new light rail draft

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Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Pages leaked last week shed light on Capital Metro’s Project Connect high-capacity transit draft plan, which includes a light-rail line that would connect North and South Austin using Lamar Boulevard and Guadalupe Street. 

An unofficial draft of the plan was unintentionally tweeted out during a joint CapMetro and Austin Transportation Department meeting and was later released in full by KUT and CapMetro.

“While we value them as important stakeholders and collaborators on developing the plan, we really were hoping they wouldn’t just post it all over social media,” Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro’s vice president of strategic planning and development, said in an article from the Austin Monitor. “Although in today’s modern age, it was probably unavoidable.”

According to the documents, the rail could potentially run 12 miles long, cost $2.1 billion and include multiple stops, including one at 24th Street near the University.

“The working documents from last week’s advisory committee meetings show possibilities and are not final,” CapMetro spokeswoman Amy Peck said in an email. “Several things must happen before any type of transit plan can be finalized: Public input, environmental studies, land use agreements and board approval.”

There is a current line in place, but talk of a light rail connecting parts of Austin is nothing new. Randy Machemehl, transportation engineering professor, said two similar propositions were already shot down in 2000 and 2014. However, he said the increasing population of Austin may make a difference this time around.

“I believe that as congestion becomes worse and people have more difficulty traveling, that light rail might be a little bit more acceptable,” Machemehl said. “I wouldn’t be totally surprised if this thing passed this time.”

The light-rail line outlined in the early draft includes two potential price options, a $2.1 billion high-investment plan that could serve 30,000 daily riders and a $1.4 billion low-investment plan that would service up to 22,500 riders. 

The current line carries more than 8,500 daily riders.

“One of the values of a rail line is the potential of it to influence how the city grows in the future, not in the next year but in the next 10, 15, 20, 30 years,” Machemehl said. “(But) not everybody has the same dream about how Austin should grow.”

Because the plan was released prematurely, much is still up in the air, including funding for the project. Peck said more questions will be discussed at a CapMetro board meeting March 26 and during a public open house March 28, where the draft will be discussed.

The final plan will include a variety of high-capacity transit services in other areas in addition to the North Lamar-Guadalupe corridor, and CapMetro board approval is not expected before Summer 2018, Peck said.

Law student Teddy Garber, who is a part of the Austinites for Urban Rail Action group, which advocates for increased public transportation, said he likes the idea of a light rail running along the North Lamar- Guadalupe corridor.

“I think public transportation is more efficient than everyone driving their personal cars, so I’m in favor of anything that boosts public transportation,” Garber said. 

Machemehl said it is important to recognize that the light rail line is far off from any real progress, and the question still remains whether the Project Connect proposal will pass at all. Still, he is hoping that when it comes to the rail line, the third time’s the charm.

“Some people would say no, but I think (trying the line again) is an appropriate thing,” Machemehl said. “I think as people become more frustrated with trying to get around in Austin, they are more willing to consider more public transportation options.”

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly refer to the plan as a light rail line and to correct the date of a past vote on a similar plan. The Texan regrets this error.