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Friday, May 11, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Capital Metro: Perhaps a stopgap plan for fill-in-the-gap stops

Reversing course, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is now planning to use temporary signs and posts for at least some of the agency’s long-awaited new MetroRapid stops.

Since announcing in 2016 the eight pairs of stops intended to fill in key gaps along the Nos. 801 and 803 routes, the agency has declined to expand service to the new locations pending the construction of the pricey shelters linked to the MetroRapid brand.

On Wednesday, however, Vice President of Capital Projects Ken Cartwright revealed that station construction will be delayed at four stops due to their location along sections of corridors planned for a major overhaul by the city of Austin.

“And what that means is, we’ll put one of our conventional bus stops branded for MetroRapid, with the red branding, and have that there until the city completes their infrastructure, and then we’ll replace that with permanent stations at that time,” Cartwright told the members of the agency’s Operations, Planning and Safety Committee.

The interim stops would be installed at both sides of Rutland Drive and Burnet Road, on the southbound side of the Broken Spoke stop on South Lamar Boulevard, and on the northbound side of North Lamar Boulevard at Parmer Lane.

The five other planned infill stops will be located along North Lamar at Payton Gin Road and North Loop Boulevard, on Guadalupe Street at West 31st Street, and on South Congress Avenue at St. Elmo Road and Slaughter Lane.

Cartwright said four to six of the permanent stations should be constructed and ready for service by August. The other shelters, he predicted, will be in place and brought into service by the end of the year. Based on the city’s timeline for its Corridor Construction Program, the interim stops might not be ready for permanent replacements until 2022.

Augmented by reduced fares and higher frequencies, both MetroRapid lines have seen surging ridership since early 2017. In April, Cartwright told the committee, the No. 803 provided more than 5,000 trips per day while the No. 801 racked up over 9,000.

The agency projects that the 16 infill stops will account for an extra 1,600 riders per day for both lines. Given that boost, Council Member Ann Kitchen questioned why the service couldn’t be expanded faster through the use of interim stops at each location that would otherwise have to wait for a permanent shelter to be built.

After Cartwright explained that that decision had been made “months ago,” the agency’s new CEO and President Randy Clarke jumped in to say that he has talked to staff about that strategy and wants to have further discussion about it.

In the meantime, he said, the agency’s primary focus is on rolling out the landmark bus network overhaul known as Cap Remap in early June. But he suggested that the full complement of MetroRapid infill stops could be ready for passengers by the next regularly scheduled service change.

“If there’s opportunities to put all of them online in August, even if it’s temporary from a signage point of view, that is something we’re going to look at,” Clarke said.

When Kitchen asked about the planned sequencing of shelter construction, Cartwright told her there’s no exact plan just yet.

However, he added: “We have, due to community input, decided that the location at 31st Street adjacent to Wheatsville Co-op would be early on in the construction project.”

The precise sequencing, he said, will be determined when the full board approves the staff-recommended $1.7 million contract with Muniz Concrete & Contracting Inc., the same company that built the original MetroRapid shelters.

The committee unanimously endorsed that contract on Wednesday. The board is scheduled to vote on it at its May 21 meeting.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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