Austin: Capital Metro’s $9.8B Transit Plan, with New Rail Lines, Stations, Goes Forward
Featured Illustration (above): A rendering of the Republic Square station along Capital Metro’s proposed downtown tunnel, which would link existing and new rail lines. Image: Capital Metro
By Edmond Ortiz Austin (Travis County)–A $9.8 billion plan designed to transform Austin mass transit, including three new light rails lines, will go up for voter approval in November.
City Council and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board unanimously voted June 10 to approve the proposed Project Connect plan. Voters on Nov. 3 will consider a tax rate election to help finance implementation of the plan.
VBX previously reported on major points in the proposal. The council and board agreed to keep one proposed feature that creates a new light rail line, the Orange Line, which will run along Lamar Boulevard, Guadalupe Street and Congress Avenue.
A map of the proposed new rail lines and downtown tunnel connection in Capital Metro’s Project Connect. Image: Capital Metro
Capital Metro initially proposed using the Orange Line as a corridor dedicated to buses.
Project Connect also keeps the proposed Blue Line light rail corridor from Riverside Drive to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, a third new light rail line, a new Green Line commuter line, a downtown tunnel that would connect all new and existing light and commuter rail lines, and a new underground station at Republic Square.
Other Project Connect features include a new rail bridge over Lady Bird Lake, more stations on the existing Red Line, and 24 new Park & Rides.
According to preliminary estimates, construction of the new Orange, Blue, Gold and Green Lines will cost more than $6.5 billion total. The downtown tunnel will cost another $2.5 billion.
There are details to work out, such as governance, financing and construction schedules. The council will meet in August to consider the language for the tax rate election ballot.
A consultant recommended that the council, mayor and Capital Metro board form a separate board made up of industry experts and community stakeholders to supervise the project’s implementation.
Local officials say Project Connect could offer more public transportation options to a growing population, reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions.
“With Austin’s population expected to double by 2040, Project Connect is the right plan for a public transportation system capable of responding to that growth,” Capital Metro Board Chair Wade Cooper said in a news release.
“Getting final approval on the plan is a major milestone as we move forward on realizing this bold vision for Austin’s future. We’re proud to have worked closely with the community to ensure Project Connect has a positive impact on our future.”
“Now more than ever, Austin needs a transformative mobility plan and we finally have one – created and embraced by our entire community,” Mayor Steve Adler added in the release. “This comprehensive transit system will make our city more equitable while helping us fight climate change and ease congestion.”
Local business organizations and mass transit advocates have been generally positive about the Project Connect plan. Some environmental groups, too, have expressed support for some parts of Capital Metro’s plan.
“This is a massive step for our city and a celebration is in order,” the Transit for Austin coalition stated on its Facebook page.
“Project Connect is the regional transportation vision that would include high-capacity transit options to move people around our region efficiently,” the Austin Board of Realtors has said.
But other groups have voiced concerns about how projects will be implemented, transit equity in low-income neighborhoods, and the plan’s impact on taxes. Local taxpayers and transit users are expected to foot about half of the entire cost.
Local officials estimate implementing Project Connect would require an 11-cent hike on the city’s property tax rate — something that critics fear will exacerbate the effects many residents are experiencing from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A concept for one of the 14 proposed new park-and-ride stations. Image: Capital Metro
Still, city leaders are hopeful that Project Impact will produce a positive effect.
“This Project Connect vision…will also enhance the quality of life for people who depend on transit,” said Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison. She represents East Austin, where redevelopment is increasing in neighborhoods have experienced varying levels of socioeconomic struggles.
“That means dignity for low-income residents who are disproportionately black and brown seniors, young people, our differently-abled neighbors, and anyone else who doesn’t drive,” she added.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.