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Revived Group Aims To Coordinate Regional Public Transit

Daniel Reese
A new transportation working group has reconvened to find a way to connect regional mass transit lines in Central Texas that include highway managed lanes and rail lines.

As if awaking from a two year hibernation, a sub-committee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) held its first meeting this afternoon with a new leader and new members. The Transit Working Group (TWG) was restored in time to prepare for Austin’s soon-to-come vote on an urban rail system.

The working group was first established in 2007 under Austin Mayor Will Wynn. He decided the city needed an urban rail or street car system. But nothing really came out of it. Now, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is leading the TWG.

“The big difference between this group and the one of that before is our focus is going to be regional,” Leffingwell said.

The TWG will advise on the CAMPO 2035 plan, a long range strategy for building a large regional public transit system in Central Texas. Many of the projects include rail: Capital Metro’s Red Line, the Lone Star Regional Rail from Georgetown and San Antonio, and the City of Austin’s potential urban rail line.

Leffingwell says that while rail is important, it's not the only answer. He points to projects like CapMetro’s Bus Rapid Transit and managed lanes on MoPac and Highway 183.

But the TWG has more to deal with than just planning how various mass transit projects will all tie together. It has to figure out whether there will be enough money to build these projects.

CAMPO, by federal law, can only plan for transportation projects that have funding. CAMPO director Maureen McCoy said they routinely have down-to-earth talks with all cities and counties about whether their transportation projects are really funded or not.

Urban rail falls into the latter category. Austin's Assistant City Manager Robert Goode, who is working with the group, said that Austin’s urban rail system is still based on the hope of getting federal funding to build it. 

“It’s feasible. But if it never comes to pass, that part of the system may never be built,” Goode said. “That’s still fiscally constrained but it relies a lot on hitting on a grant. ”

The TWG has an aggressive agenda. Members will meet every other week until about May. Their first town hall meeting is scheduled for some time in December.

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