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Capital Metro Recommends Two Train Lines And Downtown Tunnel As Part Of Expansion Plans

An artist's rendering of a light-rail station platform.
Capital Metro
An artist's rendering of a light-rail station platform.

Capital Metro is going big when it comes to transit expansion in Austin. On Monday, its Project Connect team will not only recommend the construction of two light rail lines, but also a downtown tunnel to help them move along faster.

“It’ll be able to move faster because you’re completely away from the traffic,” Dave Couch, program manager for Project Connect, said. “It’ll be safer, because there wouldn’t be any pedestrians. There wouldn’t be any scooters, things of that nature, so it’ll be much safer.”

The two train lines would run in dedicated transitways, so they wouldn’t mix with traffic. The Orange Line would run from the North Lamar Transit Center through the UT campus corridor and downtown, ending at Stassney Lane. The Blue Line would run along East Riverside out to the airport, sharing the Orange Line tracks between the North Lamar Transit Center and downtown. The process is called interlining.

The route for the Blue Line represents a slight change from the original map. Couch said the change would allow for more frequent service in the heart of Austin.

“It’ll take what is a 10-minute service that is on the outskirts and bring it to a five-minute frequency when you go ahead and get that interlining portion up to Guadalupe and North Lamar,” he said. “So it’s a very big benefit and it helps with what the capacity is.”

Another dedicated transitway would be built for the Gold Line, which would run from the ACC Highland campus to the Austin Convention Center and Republic Square. Unlike the other lines, it would use buses, but that could change later.

The plan also features expanded bus and commuter rail service. The cost of the entire plan could range anywhere from $6 billion to $10 billion, with some expenses covered by federal grants. The Austin City Council and Capital Metro board are expected to talk financing at a meeting Monday. Options include a bond referendum, a tax rate election or some combination of both in November.

It could take four to six years to complete the initial train lines once funding is approved and the environmental impact is studied.

The Project Connect team plans to hold a series of public meetings on its recommendations in April. It will also continue community outreach, including meeting with neighborhood associations.

“We’re also going to be doing some door-to-door surveying in neighborhoods where we know we need to get more feedback – voices that we don’t always here from, but we need to hear from,” said Jackie Nirenberg, community engagement manager for Project Connect.

The Capital Metro board would vote on the plan in May.

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Samuel King covers transportation and mobility for KUT News.
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