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Panel dusts off plans for Green Line rail

Thursday, December 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the rail bond defeat in the rearview mirror, this week the City Council Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee took a look at a long-planned but almost forgotten rail line that could connect Austin will communities to the east.

The proposed Green Line would connect Elgin, Manor, Decker Lake and downtown Austin. The route, which would be 28 miles long, would have eight stations. As proposed, trains will run on weekdays, every 20 minutes, during peak hours.

The Capital Metro Regional Transportation Authority predicts that in 2030, the line could transport 7,000 to 12,000 daily riders, which is between 1.8 and 3.1 million annual riders. Though those numbers have been updated, they are based on a 2008 study of the line.

Right now, the line is expected to cost between $360 and $460 million, with annual operating costs that could be as high as $16 million. Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro’s vice president of strategic planning and development, stressed that those are preliminary numbers.

A representative for Capital Metro told the Austin Monitor that while the transportation authority would like to expand rail and thinks the line could be successful, there is no funding currently in place for construction, and no money has been budgeted for the continuing cost of operations.

“Capital Metro has had this line on our radar screens for a number of years,” said Hemingson.

The transportation authority already owns the right of way, which extends from the city to Manor, Elgin and Giddings. Hemingson explained it was part of an acquisition with the City of Austin in 1986.

In 2008, with regional comprehensive planning underway, there was a resurgence of interest in the rail line. Since then, interest and momentum has dropped off. In 2012, the line was included in the Project Connect System Plan, though it was identified as a lower-priority route.

As for ridership, there are some concerns. Hemingson explained that while there was high demand within the city, “once you get past Decker Lake, that drops off substantially.”

To remedy that, Hemingson said they were hoping to get other jurisdictions on board to “spur transit-supportive development.”

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