MetroRail downtown station expansion plans underway
Wednesday, July 29, 2015 by Courtney Griffin
Capital Metro staff wants MetroRail’s downtown station on Fourth Street to become a staple in the area’s transportation corridor, and on Monday, board members were shown two proposed ways to expand the terminal’s platform.
Javier Arguello, CapMetro’s director of long-range planning, said the downtown expansion project is about 10 percent complete. Staff kicked off the initiative in June 2014 after it received $57 million in grant funding for the project, and it aims to build long-term infrastructure in the area in the next three years.
“Originally, the (current downtown) station was intended to be temporary,” Arguello reminded board members. “The final location wasn’t completely in agreement, so they basically built a temporary station.”
The downtown platform is the smallest among MetoRail’s stations, but it sees the most traffic. It’s in a high-density part of town that is surrounded by the Austin Convention Center, the Hilton Hotel and frequent events host Brush Square park, so the temporary design makes commuter safety a concern, Arguello added.
“More importantly is that because of where the station is located, we have a great opportunity to … develop infrastructure that works together with the environment to shape and define a place that supports Austin mobility,” Arguello said.
CapMetro staff met with stakeholders this year to sketch out expansion possibilities. They came up with two final concept designs. The first design proposes closing Fourth Street to traffic from Red River Street to Trinity Street, making Neches Street into a cul-de-sac servicing the Hilton Hotel and park visitors and creating two separate lanes by the rail tracks for bicycle and emergency vehicle use.
“Let me say that there has been opposition from some of the stakeholders that (Arguello) mentioned — the Hilton, some folks that have interest in the downtown area, and city staff,” Linda Watson, CapMetro president and CEO, added. “So, without city staff concurrence with this option, there is no way to go forward with it.”
The second design would maintain a single open lane for vehicle and bike use. Both designs expand the station’s current two rail tracks to three to accommodate MetroRail’s possible service expansion in five years or so.
Watson said staff is presenting stakeholders with more final design concepts outlining the first proposal, which would take away vehicular access to the area. But, if Fourth Street is not closed to normal vehicular access, the combined traffic and bike lane alongside the track expansion will have “inches to spare” between rights of way and property lines, Watson said.
Board Secretary Ann Stafford pointed out that the second design would put bicycles on the same street as cars with no protective lane. She said it worried her to have bicycles unprotected in a high-commuter area.
The city of Austin and the Texas Department of Transportation have requested a vehicle and bicycle traffic analysis to determine how closing a portion of Fourth Street would impact surrounding areas, according to Arguello. He said that city officials will take traffic study results into account when determining the final concept design.
Ken Cartwright, CapMetro’s vice president of capital projects, said staff has already kicked off the project with TxDOT and city of Austin officials this month, but CapMetro plans to meet with Austin’s city manager to execute an interlocal agreement for the project. Cartwright added that they will determine the appropriate commissions to involve in the approval process.
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