AUSTIN (KXAN) — Transportation officials are working on a route that can take you from downtown Austin to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport without any traffic. The project called the Blue Line is part of Capital Metro’s vast transit plan known as Project Connect.
While CapMetro remain in the early stages of planning, it held an open house Monday to gather the public’s input.
Project Connect’s Program Manager Dave Couch told KXAN the goal of the long-term plan is “to make it the absolute quickest trip we possibly can.”
“It’s a system,” Jackie Nirenberg, CapMetro’s community engagement manager said. “We want people to know that it is not just one line or another line, it is a system of projects that will connect Austinites and Central Texans to the places they want to go.”
The proposed Blue Line route would travel from ABIA to Montopolis through Riverside, up to downtown and into the University of Texas campus area.
CapMetro wants the Blue Line to have a dedicated pathway, meaning whether it’s a bus or rail, the public transit system will have its own lane. It won’t be impacted by traffic.
“Riverside [Drive] is a very wide right of way, so all the way across the main portion of Riverside, there isn’t a need to acquire property,” explained Couch. “Our objective is to be able to have a dedicated pathway in the center. Not take away any of the through lanes, so that capability is there for the general public to use with their cars, trucks and vehicles.”
They still need to decide, however, if the Blue Line will be a bus or a light rail. The decision isn’t expected until next year.
“Basically in March of next year, there will be a selection of what they call a locally preferred alternative. That will mean what the exact routing is, whether it’s above ground, below ground and whether that will be a lightrail system or whether it’ll be bus rapid transit,” said Couch.
Tanya Tussing who attended the open house said she regularly takes a CapMetro bus. “I take it to go downtown. I don’t drive downtown anymore,” she said.
While she liked the idea of having the Blue Line, she said she wanted to know the total cost of Project Connect.
“What’s the cost estimate for the master plan?” she said. “To me, it’s going to be a down payment on a bigger solution. [The Blue Line] is not going to fix Austin traffic, but it’s a down payment on fixing Austin traffic.”
Patrick Van Haren added, he wants to know the complete timeline.
“How long is it going to take? And is it truly feasible?” he said. “Is it going to come where I can actually make an impact on my lifestyle? That’s an answer I want to hear.”
“I think people are at a point right now that they realize we need options,” Nirenberg said. “We’re sitting in traffic every day, we have 150 people moving to Austin every day, our population is expected to double in 20 years, so I think we are at a tipping point and I think people want choices.”
At the moment, CapMetro officials said they do not have an estimated cost but are working to have something concrete by next year.
The Blue Line is one of two proposals that are a part of Project Connect. The Orange Line would run north-south from Tech Ridge in north Austin, down the North Lamar corridor, into downtown ending near the South Congress Transit Center. Just like the Blue Line, CapMetro is depending on the community’s input whether this will be a rail or bus line.
The Fall of the Urban Rail Line
This isn’t the first time CapMetro and the city attempted a major rail line. In 2014, voters rejected an urban rail line that would have run from Highland Mall down south and into east Austin along Riverside. Many argued it was not a well-thought-out plan and didn’t fit the need of many Austinites.
Before that, in Nov. 2000, voters also rejected a CapMetro plan to build several rail lines estimated at $2 billion. It would have bought 52 miles of rail. By a margin of less than one percent, the referendum failed.
The Success of the 2016 ‘Prop 1’
While voters rejected previous urban rail lines, in 2016, they approved a $720 million proposition focused on improving major roads across the city. More than half of that money is going toward improvements along nine major corridors.
The corridors will be:
- North Lamar Boulevard from US 183 to Howard Lane
- Burnet Road from Koenig Lane to MoPac Expressway
- Airport Boulevard from North Lamar Boulevard to US 183
- East MLK Jr. Boulevard/FM 969 from US 183 to Decker Lane
- South Lamar Boulevard from Riverside Drive to Ben White Boulevard/US 290 West
- East Riverside Drive from I-35 to SH 71
- Guadalupe Street from MLK Jr. Boulevard to West 29th Street
- William Cannon Drive from Southwest Parkway to McKinney Falls Parkway
- Slaughter Lane from FM 1826 to Vertex Boulevard
The city of Austin hopes to start construction on these roads by 2021.