City to hold forums for Austin rail line

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A proposed rail line that would run straight through the heart of UT’s campus may become a reality by the end of the decade.

The rail line would run from Mueller Development to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and would hit 16 stops, including the UT Campus. The rail line would connect downtown Austin with the UT campus and the Capitol and would also make stops in West Campus and the Riverside area.

The project could cost $1.3 billion by the end of the decade and would be funded mostly by federal money, said Karla Villalon, spokeswoman for the city of Austin Transportation Department. She said city officials estimate building will begin between 2017 and 2020.

“The intent of the project is to improve mobility within and to the central Austin area,” she said.

The city will begin holding public meetings today from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center and will hold several more before April 9. The meetings will explain pros and cons to the public, so the city can get input on the rail line from those it will affect, Villalon said.

“The environment is not just bugs and bunnies,” she said. “It’s the human environment and how the rail impacts the public. We’re asking them to weigh in because we want to make sure we get their questions answered. We are very interested to know whether they see benefits or impacts.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell proposed the idea for a rail line during his 2009 campaign and has continued pushing the idea of implementing an urban rail line to connect downtown, the Capitol and the University, said Matt Curtis, spokesman for the mayor’s office.

“The mayor understands that for this city to grow and for people to be able to get around, Austin is going to have to choose a multimodal transportation system that includes roads, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and public transportation,” he said. “We’re looking at all aspects of expanding our transportation opportunities. It’s the only way we can really be successful.”

The city initially raised funds for the rail line through a bond election in 2010 during the midterm elections, and another bond election could bring in more funds in November 2012, Curtis said.

UT currently has 15,000 parking places for 75,000 students, faculty and staff, said Jeri Baker, assistant director of Parking and Transportation Services. The urban rail line proposal will help the University and the city improve the way people move from place to place by providing them with an alternative to a single-occupancy vehicle, she said.

“UT needs something like this proposal,” she said. “It will definitely disrupt things for a while; it’ll take out some parking. But I think that if we look for the greater good, we can get through the pain.”

Although, in theory, the rail line seems feasible, in reality, the cons would likely outweigh the pros, at least on UT’s campus, said radio-television-film freshman Ceci Bergstedt.

“It would cost a ton of money and cause all this ruckus, and for what?” she asked. “We already have transportation options in place that get people from A to B around campus. Granted, they have their faults, but I think that the effort that would go into the rail line would be better used somewhere else.”


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