CapMetro wants to meet with community as new rail lines under environmental review


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metro officials said the federal environmental review process is underway for the new orange and blue light rail lines. These light rail lines are part of Project Connect, the $7.1 billion transit program approved two months ago by Austin voters.

The plan includes a downtown tunnel, additional MetroRapid bus routes, neighborhood circulator service and the light rail lines.

The blue line consists of 15 miles and will connect 20 stations along its route. It will provide riders a connection to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The line runs from downtown to the Airport providing service along East Riverside Drive across Lady Bird Lake to the Convention Center and west on 4th Street to Republic Square. The blue line will also operate along the Orange Line’s path to US 183 and North Lamar.

The orange line is around 21 miles with 22 stations along its route. It runs north to south from TechRidge to Slaughter along the North Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, with a connection to the University of Texas at Austin campus and downtown before crossing Lady Bird Lake and traveling along South Congress to Slaughter Lane.

Combine the two rail lines and it makes up around 36 miles of light rail across the city.

This week, CapMetro officials will meet with the community to discuss the future of the rail lines and review the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process currently underway. Those at the transit agency said the environmental review process also consists of how it will culturally impact the community.

“People often think of the environmental (process) as a physical, but we also want to look at how people live (and) travel,” Jackie Nirenberg, CapMetro’s community engagement manager explained about the importance of meeting with the community. “It may be that there is a gathering place for a neighborhood that’s very important we want to make sure and highlight or it could be a park or a church.”

At present, there is a drilling barge on Lady Bird Lake. It’s taking soil samples. CapMetro officials said it is one of the first steps for the blue line bridge that will go over the lake.

CapMetro officials said any major findings during the environmental review process that could change one route could have an impact across the entire system and they’re prepared.

“There’s a lot to think about, there are a lot of moving parts,” Nirenberg said. “So having everyone under that one umbrella of the Austin Transit Partnership is going to allow us to coordinate the impacts of one project to another and make sure that the others are designed accordingly to make sure there’s no domino effect that we can’t deal with upfront.”

The environmental review process could take up anywhere between 18 to 24 months to complete. Construction on the rail lines could start sometime in 2024 and CapMetro estimates the rail lines to be complete sometime between 2028 to 2029.

The virtual Zoom meetings will run all week. Tuesday there is a blue line meeting at 12 p.m. and an orange line meeting this evening at 6 p.m. in Spanish.

Project Connect also features the gold line. Officials said this line will run from Austin Community College’s Highland campus through downtown to the Convention Center and Republic Square. CapMetro said this will initially be a bus route that they envision could one day become a light rail line.

CapMetro will shift its focus next month to the bus system with public virtual meetings to discuss the future of the Pleasant Valley and Expo MetroRapid Lines. These are new routes and projected to be ready for riders in 2023.

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