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Project Connect seeks public input on transit options

Friday, February 7, 2014 by Chris Thomas

On the heels of completing its first study into the Central Corridor, Project Connect has begun exploring and receiving input on viable transit options that it hopes will one day ease traffic congestion in the Austin area. Phase 2 of the project is charged with exploring alternative modes of transportation, as well as the possible routes they may take through the city.


According to Transportation Department staff and Project Connect, a number of options are being considered, from light rail and underground subway systems to monorails and even gondolas.


Kyle Keahey, project lead for Phase 2 of Project Connect, said they were giving the public a wide range of options. “Nothing is off the table,” he said. “We want to give the public all options, then screen those options down to those that would work here in Austin based on capacity, speed, cost, etc.”


Keahey said he’s hesitant to choose one system over another. “It’s really about what will fill the needs of the community, but I could see two or three options such as a combination of urban and light rail and the rapid bus transportation that we now have in Austin.” He said those options, while not an endorsement over any others provided for public input, would be helpful with providing an alternative to traffic congestion. “If we used urban and light rail, they would get right of way advantages, keeping them on schedule and reliable.”


Keahey said a preliminary cost estimate for the systems could come as early as this month. “Throughout the process, we’re going to look at the different modes and eliminate some based on a multitude of issues. Some for operational flaws, capacity, alignment and then come up with final alternatives before we come out with a total cost. We will then present some transit options as well as alignment options at the Central Corridor Advisory Group meeting Feb. 21st.”


According to Project Connect, the total cost for the project won’t be determined until a mode of transportation has been selected, he said. Then that mode would be paired with the needs of the community and put to the voters to decide.


One alignment issue involves crossing of Lady Bird Lake to connect the downtown area to the East Riverside corridor.


“We’ve conducted early studies for crossing the lake and have identified a couple of potential ideas from using the First Street or Congress Avenue bridges to constructing something from Trinity Street downtown. However, we won’t be nailing anything down until we identify the alternative mode.”


Project Connect has launched an aggressive outreach campaign to encourage public participation in the process. Cheyenne Krause, a public information specialist with the Transportation Department, said public input is an important element of this project.


“We’re hoping to really get the public’s input, as this project is largely based on the needs of the people we serve,” she said. Project Connect will hold its first public workshop this weekend at ACC Highland. Krause is also encouraging local college students in the area to get involved, and for those who can’t make it in person, there will be online workshops.


Phase 2 is scheduled to be completed in June.

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