Is Austin Getting Another Shot At A Light-Rail Line?

Feb 13, 2018

Austin is (again) flirting with the idea of a light-rail system, it seems.

A tweet has given us a glimpse at Cap Metro’s plans to build out a light-rail system in Austin that would cost anywhere between $1.4 and $2.1 billion. The tweet appeared to show a Project Connect-branded outline of a route that would run along a 12-mile stretch, connecting Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard north to Highway 183, with room for more lines.

The tweet came from ATX Rail, an account run by the nonprofit Central Austin Community Development Corporation(CACDC). Images of the draft were also tweeted by CACDC board member Steven Knapp, who created and ran ATX Rail during Austin's last bid for rail, according to his CACDC biography

Cap Metro confirmed to KUT that the renderings are drafts of a proposed rail line in its Project Connect plan, but it would not release the plan. KUT obtained a copy, however, through our reporting partner The Austin Monitor, which you can view below.

Cap Metro's vice president of planning and development, Todd Hemingson, said the images came from a Project Connect advisory commission presentation yesterday.

“To some degree, the cat’s out of the bag," Hemingson said, "but what we want to reiterate is that it is, at this point, it is a draft for internal review.”

He said Cap Metro wanted to go public with the proposal at a meeting on Feb. 24 and at a Cap Metro board meeting two days later. Then, Cap Metro would have a public unveiling at its March board meeting, giving incoming CEO Randy Clarke enough time to get up to speed before a public-facing rollout of the project.  

Hemingson emphasized there is still time for tweaks to the plan, but said it's unlikely that there will be "wholesale changes" to the route.

Hemingson wouldn't discuss the details of the plan until a formal unveiling. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time the transit authority has proposed a rail line. A bond package to leverage city money and federal grants to build out a rail system was put before voters in 2014. Austinites voted it down by a 14-point margin.

The majority of the funding of the 2014 project would've relied on federal money to build out the system. However, Hemingson said, President Trump's new infrastructure plan – which would prioritize public-private partnerships for large-scale infrastructure projects, requiring fewer federal dollars – has given Cap Metro pause.

“The proposal that’s out on the table right now is not the most optimistic-looking for us in terms of our funding plan," Hemingson said. "So that’s really the next place we’ll go after we get as much community consensus around the map.” 

The project’s previous plan would have linked East Riverside Drive to what is now the ACC Highland campus through downtown. Project Connect had planned to build out a rail system from that first line.

While Cap Metro wouldn't provide a copy of the report to KUT, one was obtained from one of the advisory board members by Caleb Pritchard from our reporting partner, The Austin Monitor

You can view the entire plan below: 
 

Mose Buchele contributed to this report.

This post has been updated.

Clarification: This story initially suggested the tweet from ATXRail was errant, it was not. The public disclosure of the Project Connect draft was.