CapMetro works to develop equitable plan for transit development, businesses worry about growing pains

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Capital Metro gets to work on developing 27 miles of new rail line and extra bus service. They are also working to develop the foundation for Project Connect’s development through an Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (ETOD) plan.

The ETOD will become the blueprint for how the transit agency works with the city of Austin and the community to build the city around Project Connect stations.

Capital Metro’s Station Typology Framework is composed of two classification schemes for organizing and describing the station areas along Capital Metro’s high-capacity MetroRapid and MetroRail systems: Place Typology and Readiness Score. (Information Source: Capital Metro)

They’re focusing on 12 miles of rail line that will run from the airport through Riverside in east Austin and up north through Guadalupe all the way to the North Lamar Transit Center. The route will be home to sections of both the Blue and Orange Light Rail lines.

The plan would focus on incorporating mixed-use neighborhoods while offering public transit options for people to get around. CapMetro representatives said this transit-oriented development plan is different from others because it incorporates equity. They want the plan to be equitable to ensure communities of color benefit from the changes.

This means the plan isn’t necessarily focused on the homes and businesses where the tracks will go but it’s focused on people and places that could get pushed out by the transit development.

However, longtime business owners like Richard Lord of Richard Lord’s Boxing Gym are concerned. For Lord, it’s the growing pains that are top of mind. He’s worried about how long construction on the lines could take and what that could mean for his business. He fears he could end up getting displaced.

“While they’re building this thing that’s supposed to make it better for everybody, I don’t think we can wait it out,” Lord said.

At present, CapMetro is at 15% design of the lines, which means they have an idea of where the stations will go and a footprint of the light rail lines. It plans to use the center lane for the light rail lines. Transit officials say it is too early to determine how long construction will take.

For now, they say their focus is to work with communities along the corridor on the ETOD to implement its goals. This includes developing and preserving affordable housing, supporting small businesses, creating new jobs and improving public spaces.

“The focus is on the community as opposed to the line because the line is coming to serve the community,” Sharmila Mukherjee, the transit agency’s executive vice president of planning and development said.

CapMetro received $900,000 from the Federal Transit Administration for the pilot program for TOD planning. That does not include the $300 million Austin voters approved to fund displacement prevention efforts. That chunk of money will be spent over the next 13 years.

Tuesday, the transit agency will meet with the community virtually from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and then again tomorrow, Nov. 17 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. to discuss what neighbors would like to see surrounding the rail line stations.

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