Leander

Media representatives from around Austin take a ride in a MetroRapid bus during a media preview of the new form of public transportation.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Future students may bypass cars, buses and bikes in Austin and take a train to class that could leave them right in front of the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

The city of Austin, Capital Metro and other interested parties have partnered together to look into Urban Rail, a train system officials say will move people around UT, the Capitol and downtown areas. Officials hope to link the system to MetroRail, which runs between Leander and Austin.

In June, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell convened the Central Corridor Advisory Group, which represents different organizations focused on developing Austin’s transportation footprint, to determine whether the city should move forward with the project.

A preliminary map released by the city shows there are at least four train stops near UT, including one at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, San Jacinto Boulevard and Dean Keeton Street.

At a May meeting of the UT System Board of Regents, architecture professor Lawrence Speck presented a campus master plan that featured an urban rail built along San Jacinto Boulevard close to the new Dell Medical School. 

Speck said the University prefers the line be built along San Jacinto Boulevard. 

“After much study, that seems to be most convenient and least disruptive,” Speck said. 

Regents unanimously approved Speck’s plan. Some students, however, have said they prefer the rail be built along Guadalupe Street. 

UT Student Government passed a resolution in April suggesting the initial rail line be built on Guadalupe Street, where it can serve students living in West Campus.

Architecture senior Andrew Houston, a student government representative, said he and other representatives hope students will be involved in the Urban Rail planning process.

There are currently no students serving on the group convened by Leffingwell.

“We thought that the Urban Rail should be where people are already, not where they are projected to be,” Houston said. “What we are advocating for is an open, public process in terms of determining where the Urban Rail should go and that students be involved in that process. We are [a] group that is going to use it.”

If an agreement is reached soon, Austinites could expect to see the project implemented by 2021. However, local bodies must also be willing to invest about $275 million and receive federal matching funds.

Julia Montgomery, a member of the Central Corridor Advisory Group, said the group will eventually determine whether the city should go forward with the project.

“By forming the group and the new public involvement plan, the Project Connect staff and the mayor have acknowledged that we really need to step back and do an open evaluation of where the next high capacity transit investment is going to go, whether that is Urban Rail or not,” said Montgomery, who is also a member of a separate Urban Rail advocacy group called Austinites for Urban Rail Action.

Although initial proposals from the city’s transportation department suggested the line be built along San Jacinto Boulevard, close to the future Dell Medical School, Montgomery said a final decision would not be made until more public input is heard.

“[AURA was] happy to hear Mayor Leffingwell and the Project Connect staff repeatedly emphasize that any of the maps that had already been drawn and put out on the website are just conceptual,” Montgomery said.

The group’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16 at 1:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Karla Villalon, spokeswoman for the city’s transportation department, said the city and Capital Metro will be opening the discussion up to the public in the fall, as early as September. Villalon said the project has been a long time coming.

“The idea of rail for Austin has been around for 30-plus years,” Villalon said. “Right now we’re looking at the Central Austin area and how rail could work through downtown.”

Although the city has recently moved closer to building Urban Rail in Austin, Villalon said there’s still a great deal of work ahead for the project.