AUSTIN (KXAN) — What exactly is a combined maintenance facility, and how does it factor into Project Connect? Those were two key questions project leaders explored during a public meeting Tuesday evening.

The facility will serve as the future home of Project Connect’s light rail vehicles, where they’ll be housed, repaired, cleaned and inspected. The facility will also serve as “mission control,” leaders said Tuesday, as well as a storage site for elements such as benches, bus shelters and other project features.

Some design elements under consideration include a landscaped pedestrian and bicycle trail, solar panels, green roofs, rainwater reuse elements and canopies over the trains to assist with shading. Officials pointed to Bellevue, Washington’s transit operations and maintenance facility as a potential source of inspiration.

Currently, project leaders have not identified and confirmed the specific site where the facility will be built. During a preliminary study in 2019, 47 locations had been identified along the blue line corridor and in north Austin.

In early 2020, more than 80 sites were evaluated along the orange, blue and gold line corridors. Later that same year, project heads did a deep dive into seven sites within the blue line region.

Officials, in a 2021 study, identified four new sites and continued analysis of five previous locations to see which locations would be most optimal for the rail yard. Sites marked as incompatible were disregarded due to incompatibility with neighboring uses, difficult area topography, floodplains or wetlands or because they weren’t reasonably located near the orange or blue line corridors.

(Courtesy: Project Connect)

Due to the size of the facility and its need to house roughly 75 trains, project heads are evaluating 60 to 70-acre properties.

Alongside sustainability, one of the key priorities both project leaders and community members flagged was the inclusion of “aesthetic architectural features” into the site, such as community art, public touring access and area pedestrian features like trails.

(Courtesy: Project Connect)

Officials said they’re looking to tap into Austin’s area resources for potential career and technical education program partnerships, alongside workforce development opportunities with local ISDs, community colleges and trade schools.

(Courtesy: Project Connect)

During the meeting’s community feedback sections, residents weighing in suggested leadership connect with area residents, school districts, local businesses, bus users and local community and environmental groups to help gauge the project’s impact and implications on surrounding communities. Some concerns noted about the facility included noise and traffic volumes, potential inflation implications on neighboring residences, affordable resources nearby and industrial waste.

Project heads confirmed the facility is designed to service both the blue and orange lines as opposed to construct a unique facility for each light rail. This facility’s focus is on the light rail trains, which are all-electric systems that operate differently than Project Connect’s diesel locomotive commuter rail.

Under current project timelines, preliminary design features for the facility are expected to be completed in early 2023, with final designs and permitting greenlit in late 2024. Construction is expected to finish by 2027.