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Experts Share Five Steps to Launching Urban Rail in Austin
Light rail in Seattle. Experts from around the country have advice on Austin's urban rail push.

Austin doesn’t have urban rail – but it’s already suffering from an identity crisis.

That was one big takeaway from a presentation by urban planning experts on how Austin can get a rail project up and running.

Austin is one of four U.S. cities chosen as part of an Urban Land Institute fellowship focusing on urban issues. The participating cities each chose a focus issue for a year-long study – and Austin chose rail.

Austin’s ULI panel said the best way to build momentum is by keeping it simple. It suggested assembling the disparate collection of transportation groups – CAMPO, Cap Metro and the City of Austin, to name a few – under one umbrella. The region is currently attempting to do this as Project Connect, but the panel suggested an Austin-esque rebranding: the Austin Regional Transit System, or ARTS.

The city should also bring rail skeptics into the fold, said panelist Calvin Gladney with Mosaic Urban Partners.  “You give the skeptics voice,” he says, “so that there’s a transparency to the process, and everyone feels like they know what’s going on, they had their chance to speak, and then everyone can make a decision with full information.”  

Assembling a team, a brand, and a message was one of the panel's five conclusions on how Austin can further the case for urban rail. You can view the Urban Land Institute’s Austin rail presentation online

Credit Urban Land Institute

But first, Austin has to vote.  Mayor Lee Leffingwell has promised to bring urban rail before voters before the end of his term in November 2014.

“The local vote is just the first step,” said Ric Ilgenfritz with SoundTransit, Seattle’s regional transit group. Thinking long term, he said rail isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon, but a triathalon.

“Here you’ve got a process of establishing your local funding, in order to leverage the second part, which is your federal funding, so that you can put your whole finance plan together and then build and operate the system.”

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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