CapMetro gets $65 million from feds for high-frequency bus lines
In one of largest infusions of federal cash yet into Austin's public transit system, Capital Metro has secured more than $65 million to help pay for building two high-frequency bus lines already under construction in East Austin, KUT has learned.
"These two new routes wouldn't be possible without this grant funding," CapMetro CEO Dottie Watkins said.
The money from the Federal Transit Administration will cover almost two-thirds of the roughly $100 million price tag for the Pleasant Valley and Expo Center lines. The costs are related to things like building stations, buying electric buses and installing bus chargers.
Local taxpayers are footing the rest of the bill. A little over a third of the MetroRapid money — almost $36 million — is coming from a real estate tax approved by voters in 2020 as part of the multibillion-dollar Project Connect transit expansion.
The FTA grants are a positive sign for a transit system betting on billions in cash from the feds to fund Project Connect, Watkins said.
"We need to be able to continue to count on the federal investment," she said. "This is an important first step in getting that muscle memory underway."
The MetroRapid lines were supposed to be up and running this summer, but that timeline changed last month. Capital Metro blamed several factors — including poor planning assumptions about charging electric buses and a city decision to add more pedestrian and bike paths along the routes.
The Pleasant Valley route will run from the Mueller Neighborhood in Northeast Austin to Goodnight Ranch in Southeast Austin.
The Expo Center route will go from the Travis County Expo Center through Northeast Austin and into downtown.
Both routes are supposed to offer service as frequently as every 10 minutes. And they'll both be run exclusively with electric buses that cost up to $1.37 million each.
CapMetro has known since late-January that the FTA grants were secured. But the agency was delaying an announcement until the arrival of FTA administrator Nuria Fernandez this Saturday.
"FTA and our local and state elected officials want to celebrate the grants with us in March, so we will hold off on celebrating that news until then," CapMetro executive vice president Molly King wrote to board members on Feb. 14. KUT obtained the email through an open records request.
Two more MetroRapid lines are still in the planning stages. The Gold Line will run from ACC Highland to Republic Square Park. The Burnet/Menchaca Line is actually two separate extensions of the existing 803 MetroRapid route. Both will leave Westgate Transit Center but one will go to Oak Hill and the other to the Tanglewood neighborhood.
The story has been corrected. CapMetro executive Molly King wrote the e-mail to board members, not CEO Dottie Watkins.