Austin Is Hoping Comprehensive Planning Will Lead to Expanded Transit

(Photo by Argash)

Austin’s one lonely commuter rail line connects downtown with the northern suburbs. In recent years, the city has placed two light-rail proposals before voters — and both have failed. The latest, in 2014, “went down in flames,” according to one newspaper.

But planners are back at their sketchpads, the Austin Monitor reports. Last week, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors heard the first results of a “rebooted” effort to fund high-capacity transit.

The paper reports:

Long Range Planning Director Javier Arguello told the board members that his team combed through stacks of previous local transportation planning studies to suss out two separate “buckets” of corridors worthy of new investments and existing transit routes and hubs that merit enhancements.

The location of 2014’s proposed “urban rail” line was, most likely, one of the reasons it failed. A group of pro-rail advocates objected to the east side corridor where light rail was slated to go, arguing that the area wasn’t dense enough, and was characterized by projected growth rather than current growth. The ballot measure also bundled road and rail improvements — an olive branch to the sprawling metro’s many car-dependent commuters. But, as in other cities, that compromise didn’t play too well with voters concerned primarily with emissions.

Now, the board is being presented with “a map of the corridors that include many of the city’s busiest arteries, from I-35 to Guadalupe Street and North Lamar Boulevard,” the Monitor reports. “Also flagged for future investments are MetroRail’s Red Line from downtown to Leander as well as the proposed Green Line that would connect Austin to Manor.”

There’s a new effort to focus transit investment in the urban core, “which is mostly defined as the combined belt of Mopac Boulevard, U.S. Highway 183 and State Highway 71,” according to the paper. Arguello told the Monitor that the plan should be considered in the context of initiatives to boost the city’s current modes of alternative transit, particularly bus lines.

Austin’s bus rapid transit network came into focus after the last rail initiative failed, as Next City covered in 2014. Rolling out a less costly but equally comprehensive network of BRT was seen as one possible answer to voters’ continual rejection of rail.

So far, though, the mode of transit isn’t on the board’s table. “The second phase … will analyze potential modes of transit on the identified corridors, a prospect that so far agnostically includes everything from light rail to aerial gondolas,” according to the Monitor.