AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin residents approach Longhorn Dam from the north, a dated orange plaque commemorates that the site was once one along the Chisholm Trail, for ranchers herding cattle north.
“Today, we’re blazing a trail of a much different kind, as we work to connect our community and to end some of the immobility that we faced,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said.
On Wednesday, local and state leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of Project Connect’s upcoming Pleasant Valley MetroRapid Line, a bus corridor planned along northeast and southeast Austin. The project features a 100% electric bus fleet, with 22 buses in the works, along with 43 stations en route.
For city leaders, it’s the latest in a series of climate-driven measures taken to minimize Austin’s carbon output while turning to greener, more ecofriendly initiatives.
“This is going to be an entire, all-electric, zero-emission fleet that runs on this line,” said Randy Clarke, president and CEO of Capital Metro. “So that is a sustainability commitment to the city and this community, both for the current generation and future generations, and I think that really shows a lot of the values of our community.”
The Pleasant Valley MetroRapid Line is the latest groundbreaking in a series of projects under Project Connect, the $7.1 billion public transit initiative Austin voters approved in November 2020. This part focuses on establishing corridor connections between northeast and southeast Austin, with key destinations along its path including Mueller, ACC Eastview, Lady Bird Lake and Dove Springs.
“What [the MetroRapid Line is] going to do is offer opportunities for our neighbors to be able to get to their nearest grocery store, healthcare clinic, workplace, school — it’s going to offer an affordable option,” Austin City Council Vanessa Fuentes said. “And that’s really what it’s all about: it’s about helping Austinites get to where they need to go in a timely and inexpensive way.”
Coinciding with sustainability, equity and affordability rose to the forefront of Wednesday’s comments from community leaders. Austin Mayor Steve Adler called affordability concerns the city’s “existential challenge.”
He said as council focuses its attention on affordable housing investments and jobs expansion, a central driving force behind affordability coming to fruition is rooted in mobility initiatives. Thus comes what he called the “golden age in mobility” for the city.
“A big part of affordability — that is the loss of which would threaten our diversity and who we are as a city — a big part of that is transportation, and getting mobility to all parts of our community so that everybody has access and opportunity,” he said.
Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, decked in full CapMetro attire, recounted a trip to visit all the nation’s rail systems nearly 25 years ago. Returning from that trip, he said he knew then that mass public transit was something Austin needed to take advantage of.
For himself and others living in east Austin, he said CapMetro’s Red Line, then a freight line, was a pivotal commuter opportunity for Black and brown residents seeking public transit options to get to their jobs.
Looking at the systems now scheduled to come online, he said it’s been a long time coming, but just as monumental of a move nonetheless.
“This shows folks that we’re delivering real solutions that positively impact our community,” he said, adding: “And I really believe we’re going to do it.”