City unveils transit plan to meet growing regional needs

Joshua Fechter

City and transportation officials released a transit plan intended to unite the Central Texas region Friday.

At a press conference Friday, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said within 15 years, the city will link Austin to Georgetown, Round Rock, Leander, Oak Hill, Kyle, Buda, San Marcos and San Antonio through commuter, urban and regional rail lines.

A portion of the planned urban rail line will run along San Jacinto Boulevard, cutting through the UT campus. Another portion will run along Guadalupe Street with stops at Dean Keeton Street and near the West Mall. The rail will also provide service along East Riverside Drive and South Congress Avenue.

The transit plan also includes express lanes for motor vehicles on MoPac Boulevard and Interstate 35.

“The plan is attainable. Now, we have to make it happen,” Leffingwell said. “We must make this a priority.”

The plan was created by Project Connect, a regional collaborative organization that includes the city of Austin, Capital Metro, the Lone Star Rail District and Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, known as CAMPO.

Formed in 2011, Project Connect’s purpose  is to implement a portion of CAMPO’s 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, which aims to address Central Texas’ public transportation needs as the population grows. The Transit Working Group, a subcommittee of CAMPO led by Leffingwell, advised Project Connect on the plan.

John Langmore, board vice chair of Capital Metro and the Transit Working Group, said the region’s transportation infrastructure is not keeping pace with its growth.

“Every time you travel in your car, you become painfully aware of that,” Langmore said.

The Austin metropolitan statistical area’s population grew from about 1.25 million in 2000 to 1.7 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Population is expected to grow to 2.3 million in 2020 and 3 million in 2030, according to projections provided by the Texas State Data Center.

Langmore said city leaders do not have a total estimate of how much the transit plan would cost, but that the urban rail project would cost about $550 million.

According to Langmore, the city and Capital Metro would apply for federal grants to help pay for construction costs.

Langmore said many elements of the project have differing completion dates. He said Capital Metro’s rapid bus project will be completed in 2014 with routes on South Congress Avenue, North Lamar Avenue and Guadalupe Street. He said urban rail with service to the UT area would open during 2020 at the earliest.

Published on February 4, 2013 as "Regional urban rail to link nearby towns".