AUSTIN (KXAN) — Project Connect officials teased new design proposals for the program system in a construction update Thursday, including upgraded elements at the East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road intersection.

The Riverside and Pleasant Valley station runs along the blue line light rail system, an 8.2-mile trek as part of the greater Project Connect program. Initially, project heads teased two design options they were weighing between.

Option No. 1 proposed a blue line underpass system, with Pleasant Valley Road vehicular traffic traveling over the light rail track. Given the hillier geographic nature of Pleasant Valley Road, project representatives said there were some difficulties constructing an underpass system. Under the design draft, another con was the location of the bus stop across traffic lanes, complicating pedestrian access.

Concerns and feedback voiced by members of the public follow a Sept. public meeting included:

  • Elevator access, safety measures, durability and capacity
  • Accessibility issues with reaching the underground train station
  • Concerns with connections between different travel modes like the light rail and bus services
  • More efficient for auto/vehicular traffic

Option No. 2 featured a roundabout and at-grade transit plaza for the convergence of light rail and bus traffic. However, pedestrians still had to walk across multiple lanes of traffic to access the light rail and bus services under this design.

Feedback received for this design included:

  • Better for transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists
  • In favor of added green space
  • Easier transfer opportunities between buses and light rail
  • Concerns about potential impacts to auto/vehicular traffic flow
  • Concerns about vehicle and pedestrian interactions and safety issues at pedestrian crossings

The newest Option No. 3 proposes relocating eastbound travel lanes along Riverside Drive a little further north, so they come off the hill and remove some slope constraints. That would allow traffic to travel along a flat structure.

With those proposed changes, it would also result in a regrading of Pleasant Valley Road, since the hill won’t be quite as high as it currently is.

“The benefit of doing that is it allows us to hit the best of both worlds on the original proposal,” said Lonny Stern with the Austin Transit Partnership.

This also allows additional space for bus and rail connections in the same place, along with additional placemaking features.

Based on preliminary cost estimates, this third design proposal would add an additional $20 million to the Pleasant Valley Transit Center’s budget. Comparatively, Option 1 would tack on the highest hike, costing an extra $50 million, while the at-grade, roundabout feature would match preliminary baseline costs for the station project.

Project Connect officials are expected to release the 30% design and cost estimates this summer, along with a draft environmental impact statement. Officials added the property tax rate approved by voters in November 2020 would not change despite increasing project costs due to real estate, inflation and program scope changes.

“[That tax rate] will not be increasing,” Stern said. “There will be no additional tax rater requests for this project. We will either make tough decisions about the project itself, or we will adjust the timeline for pieces of the project so that we so that we stay within the funding that’s available.”