AUSTIN (KXAN) — Project Connect leaders gave a glimpse at preliminary design elements for three stations along the Blue Line, an upcoming light rail system that will extend from downtown east to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The tentative designs are all part of current efforts underway to scope out what the light rail system might look like. Both 30% design and cost estimates are scheduled to be released this summer, and a draft environmental impact statement will be revealed for public viewing and feedback.
There are 10 planned stations along the Blue Line, with three focused on Thursday evening: Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations. All are located south of Lady Bird Lake on or near East Riverside Drive.
A preliminary look at the corridor design began just south of Lady Bird Lake at the Riverfront Station, near the SoCo on the Lake apartments complex. The transit guideway will lower from the bridge to an at-grade, or level, station. Officials said this is less expensive than a continuously elevated transitway, as well as doesn’t obstruct or create a visual barrier along the corridor.
As the track closes in on East Riverside Drive, the area has shared use paths for both cyclists and pedestrians as opposed to two separate pathways for each modal type.
The area will maintain two through lanes in each direction, the transitway corridor running down the center and shared-use paths on both sides.
As for the tight turn heading onto East Riverside Drive, officials said it isn’t the most ideal design element but does mitigate having to cut into surrounding structures, thereby causing displacement. The light rail will slow to about 10 miles per hour going around the curve, which they said won’t inhibit since it’ll already be coming into or leaving stations and needing to slow down.
The first crossing will run near East Bouldin Creek where pedestrians and cyclists will be able to cross the tracks via a proposed pedestrian hybrid beacon. The beacon will give them a protected signal to safely cross without the risk of oncoming vehicular or light rail traffic.
Travis Heights Station
Extending further east along East Riverside Drive comes the Travis Heights Station. A current pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive will relocate to Blunn Creek. This is because the transit corridor will begin to elevate above the roadway due to a steep grade that light rails cannot operate on. As a result, Project Connect will raise the transit guideway up to a higher, flatter slope, with retaining walls along the sides.
Stations have to be on flat and straight terrain to effectively operate, officials said.
From the Travis Heights Station, the light rail will then swing about 45 feet into the existing footprint of Norwood Park. The park will remain open and operating, save for the 45-foot impact along the right-of-way zone.
As the Blue Line gears up to cross I-35, it’ll come across a separate project in the works courtesy of the Texas Department of Transportation. This innovative intersection in the works is called a single-point urban interchange, or SPUI.
Project Connect officials said they have been coordinating with TxDOT leadership on the phasing of both the SPUI and light rail projects, and the SPUI intersection must be built before the phasing of this portion of the Blue Line.
As for pedestrian and bicycle access across the SPUI, officials said they’re working with TxDOT on planned shared-use paths along both sides of the street as well as north-south under crossings beneath the intersection.
With 30% design and cost estimates on track to be released this summer, officials noted the program could expect additional cost increases. Last month, officials confirmed the light rail’s cost was projected to nearly double to more than $10 billion, with costs attributed to real estate and right-of-way expenses, inflation and design scope changes.