City Council explores expansion of urban rail system

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Austin residents may see a change in the way they commute as the City Council is revisiting the potential of the urban rail in hopes of meeting the needs of an increasingly congested city.

In a special work session Tuesday, council members and citizens heard a presentation by the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan on a possible urban rail system.

The proposed plan would involve at least four train routes around the downtown area, with one possibly running through the University north to the Mueller development and south to downtown.

Because so many people flock to the downtown area — including the Capitol, the University and the Central Business District — rail lines could connect the areas with other transportation hubs to maximize efficiency and reduce traffic, said Assistant City Manager Robert Goode.

The ASMP reported 750,000 more people will be living in Austin over the next 30 years and that economic growth will be negatively affected as commute times grow longer.

“Those freeways are full, and the existing arterioles are constrained,” Goode said. “We have little availability to change that.”

The mobility plan is ultimately making a broad set of recommendations, including the creation of express lanes on MoPac Boulevard and Interstate Highway 35, a possible new bridge connecting North and South Austin across the river and rapid transit lines for Capital Metro that would connect with the proposed rail system.

A $90-million mobility bond passed by voters in November 2010 initiated work by the mobility plan, which is charged with finding solutions to the area’s growing transportation needs.