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Study prefers Urban Rail, Lady Bird Lake bridge for Central Corridor project

Friday, May 2, 2014 by Mark Richardson

The Project Connect: Central Corridor study team says Austin should use Urban Rail as the preferred local mode of transportation for the central portion of its proposed $1.4 billion transit project. The Central Corridor project’s 9.5 mile alignment will run from the Highland Mall/ACC area south through the University of Texas and Downtown areas, across Lady Bird Lake and along East Riverside Drive to Grove Boulevard.


To enable the rail line, the team also recommends that the city build a $175 million bridge to cross Lady Bird Lake and a $220 million tunnel to bring the line through the Hancock Center area in North Austin.


The study team made its recommendations Friday afternoon to the Central Corridor Advisory Group, or CCAG. The project is expected to take as much as seven years to completely build and make operational. It is estimated to cost about $145 million a mile to build.


Austin voters will cast ballots in November on a multimillion bond issue to begin the project. Planners hope that the federal government will match local funding with about 50 percent of the total project cost.


Central Corridor Study project lead, Kyle Keahey, told CCAG members that his group determined that urban rail was superior to Bus Rapid Transit as the mode of transportation, mainly because of the capacity. He pointed out that rail cars hold about 170 passengers while a BRT vehicle holds about 85, meaning that it would take about 20 buses running every 4 minutes to carry the same number of passengers as 9 rail cars running every 10 minutes.


The study group presented some financial projections during Friday’s presentation, but will present CCAG with a comprehensive funding and governance approach for the project, as well as potential phasing options for project implementation, at its May 16 meeting.


The study group said building a bridge over Lady Bird Lake had several advantages over the two other proposed alternatives, a short underground tunnel and a longer underground tunnel. Keahey said both tunnels were considerably more expensive and did not provide opportunities for economic development.


“The bridge option also provides the city an opportunity to build a signature, iconic bridge over Lady Bird Lake that would accommodate urban rail and could also include bicycle and pedestrian pathways,” he said.


The group also recommended a tunnel through the Hancock Center area with an eastern alignment to allow a station that would allow transfers to theCapital MetroRail Red Line, and make for better future connectivity to the Mueller neighborhood and points east.


The urban rail route would operate along tracks mostly separate from regular traffic flow and would run about every 10 minutes with 16 stations along the entire 9.5 mile system. The project is estimated to carry an average of 16,000-20,000 passengers a day when it is completed.


Friday’s recommendation comes after almost a year of work by Project Connect and the Central Corridor teams. Following Friday’s meeting, the Project Connect: Central Corridor recommendation will move through a series of public meetings toward a June 19 recommendation before a joint meeting of the Capital Metro Board of Directors and the Austin City Council for final approval.



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