An Abandoned Rail Line In South Austin Could See New Life

Jul 23, 2020

An unused rail line to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport could become a new hike-and-bike trail and even host a transit line in the future. The Capital Area Regional Planning Organization (CAMPO) and the City of Austin's Urban Trails Program are gathering input on what should happen with the line, known as the Bergstrom Spur.

It runs for 6 miles in South Austin, from Vinson Drive to U.S. 183, just at the airport’s doorstep. The Union Pacific Railroad built it as a connection to Bergstrom Air Force Base in 1942, but it’s been unused since the base’s closure in 1993.

CAMPO is now funding a study of the corridor. An initial open house was held last fall, and now CAMPO and the city are presenting potential concepts through a “virtual open house,” where people can watch videos and provide feedback.

Zack Lofton, a regional planner with CAMPO and deputy project manager of the study, said early feedback shows people are looking for better ways to travel east to west in Austin, something a hike-and-bike trail or even transit could provide

“The further east you go, you're getting over nearer to the airport,” he said. “So, that was something that people were interested in: being able to access the airport through whatever might come of this study.”

Credit CAMPO

Some proposed ideas for the western and more residential end of the rail line include an urban dual-track trail, with pedestrians on one side and bikes on the other.

On the eastern and more commercial and industrial end, transit could be incorporated into the corridor, but that would take more planning and study. The trails could tie into one of Capital Metro’s proposed light rail lines, the Blue Line, which would run to the airport, and the proposed Orange and Gold Lines, which would cross near the trail at the South Congress Transit Center.

“We'd be looking at things on the existing road network. So if that's running buses [on the roads] or even potentially in the Bergstrom Spur right-of-way along that corridor,” Lofton said. “We're really just trying to look at, what would the demand be? What would need to happen in order for transit-supportive density to actually exist around the corridor? And then, how could we go about envisioning a future where transit is viable and serves those needs?”

Lofton said it could be more than 20 years before transit is built along the corridor, depending on how soon development and population growth happens. Trails would come much sooner, but only after planning and funding are finalized.

The team hopes to have a final report in a few weeks. The open house runs through Aug. 14. Those who lack digital access or need help navigating the site can also call CAMPO at 512-215-9411.

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