AUSTIN (KXAN) — Project Connect leaders will weigh out possible program scope and sequencing changes in the coming months amid rising inflation levels and construction costs.
In April, Project Connect officials said the light rail program’s cost were projected to nearly double the under 15% design estimates. The light rail components, initially budgeted at $5.8 billion, had increased to a projected $10.3 billion under those 15% figures.
As project development continues, officials said Wednesday the Austin Transit Partnership board will “need to align program scope and sequencing to available funding,” per meeting documents.
“ATP anticipates that costs will continue on an upward trajectory above the projections laid out in April, but ATP is working on re-envisioning the project scope/sequencing to counteract those increases,” officials said in a statement to KXAN.
In an interview with KXAN Wednesday, ATP Executive Director Greg Canally attributed projected cost upticks to increased inflation rates that have inhibited construction costs nationally.
“Because of the costs, we have to kind of change some of our priorities and the timing of everything,” he said, adding: “It’s very technically driven, financially driven, but most importantly, it has to be community driven.”
Canally said next spring, project leaders will present updated information on the light rail system’s sequencing and scope elements, following public feedback and revisited costs. In the meantime, he said the program will continue pushing its bus projects and anti-displacement funding initiatives forward.
When it comes to revisiting the light rail program, identifying possible scope changes will boil down to the following steps:
- Collecting data on: demographic and socioeconomic information; possible displacement impacts; current and projected ridership; and environmental impacts
- Focus on key light rail scope areas like: lake crossing(s); tunnel lengths; stations and station-area locations; corridor mobility improvements
- Working with the Federal Transit Administration on the federal grant process; identify possible private and nonprofit program partners
- Finalize a Plan of Finance that help elevate loan and grant opportunities
- Work with community members on: possible program tradeoffs and priorities; engage advisory and mobility committees along with other community groups
Typically, similar light rail programs take between 10 to 12 years to execute. With possible sequencing changes on the table, Canally said conversations between community members and officials in the coming months will help identify which elements of the light rail program most optimize its success.
Looking at costs, Canally said the goals will be to facilitate community feedback, leverage as many federal dollars as possible and prioritize engineering elements to continue living within the current $10 billion window estimated in April.
“I think it means that we have to look at some design elements and also scope,” he said. “Now is our moment to help right size [scope desires] and make sure that our project fits our budget because again, we’re not changing our budget. There’ll be no new taxes associated with this. It is about fitting the scope and the sequencing of our light rail projects into the resources that we have.”