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Cap Metro Talks to Residents About Urban Rail

Capital Metro plans to conduct a MetroRail emergency drill tonight
Callie Hernandez for KUT News
Plans for more rail transit are getting discussed around town.

If you’ve ever wondered why a bus line stops at a certain place, or why some parts of town have more transportation options than others, this week Capital Metro has been having a series of open houses to answer those kinds of questions. Residents have shown a lot of interest in plans for urban rail.

Urban rail is still in the planning stages. But the first phase is expected to go from the downtown Convention Center through the UT campus and on to the Mueller neighborhood.

Jace Deloney, who serves on a commission that advises the Austin City Council on urban transportation, says that last part puzzles him.

“Does Mueller deserve even more investment in levels of transit service?” Deloney said.

He says Mueller, a low-density, planned community on the land that used to be Austin’s airport, doesn’t make sense as an end point for urban rail.

“We sent rail to Leander, and that’s an open lot, and a lot of people are frustrated with that line that we have,” he said. “At the same time, on our city’s historic corridors that everyone has used since Austin was founded -- South Lamar, South Congress, Guadalupe -- those areas aren’t getting the same type of investment.”

Don Dozer was also at yesterday’s Cap Metro open house. He lives in Mueller.

“One of the things that the Mueller Neighborhood Association did is to allocate land toward the maintenance facility for the urban rail,” Dozer said.

He says the rest of the areas considered for phase 1 are densely populated. The maintenance facility has to be no more than three blocks from the rail line. A search in 2010 showed that many properties that meet that requirement are churches or parks, or are owned by the state or the university. Those cannot be purchased. Other properties in the area that match the requirements are just too expensive.

But John-Michael Cortez, community involvement manager at Cap Metro, says planners aren’t just looking at the bottom line. They look at a range of factors in projecting growth, to balance the transit needs of today’s riders with the needs of future riders.

“It’s not an either-or proposition,” Cortez said. “We got to do both. So the University of Texas starting in 2014 will get high-capacity transit with Metro Rapid. The city of Austin is looking at high-capacity transit connecting downtown, the Capitol, UT and Mueller because we know what kind of activity center that’s going to be in the future.”

And when we talk about the future, Cap Metro means the next 20 or 30 years. That’s how far ahead planners think. Whereas riders like Deloney would like to have an urban rail solution for more densely populated parts of the city a lot sooner.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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