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Commissioners Court goes for Green Line

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court gave the green light last week to advance a study of a potential commuter rail line extending from downtown Austin out to Manor and possibly Elgin.

The court voted 3-2 to approve the financial consulting firm PFM an estimated $39,000 to take a closer look at the viability of Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed Green Line.

The 27-mile corridor currently exists as a freight line but is identified by Project Connect as a developing corridor that could serve future ridership in areas not currently built out.

The agency estimates that building the first 15-mile segment from the Austin Convention Center to Manor will cost $264 million and net an average of up to 1,800 riders each day.

The agency’s four-figure projection was called into question last Tuesday when Commissioner Gerald Daugherty asked if it accounted for boardings or individual riders.

“That is boardings,” Capital Metro Director of Long Range Planning Javier Arguello told Daugherty.

That conclusion, Daughtery pointed out, would mean the raw number of round-trip riders would not exceed 1,000.

“This makes absolutely no sense for us to go down this road under any stretch. Any stretch,” Daugherty said. “This cannot be justified.”

Commissioner Jeff Travillion countered Daugherty by suggesting that the proposed commuter rail line could help spur development at the Travis County Exposition Center and Colony Park.

“I think it is a wise investment, and I think that we’re going to have to have multimodal solutions. There’s no magic bullet, no one answer, but I think this is a part of the equation that’s going to grow that area in a significant way,” Travillion said.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt agreed with Travillion. She stated that despite the limited ridership projections, the commuter line could provide an alternative in a region that sees hundreds of thousands of drivers peel down major highways each day.

“I’ll just make a brief statement that I believe that for economic development purposes in the northeast quadrant, the Green Line is probably the biggest bang for buck that we could possibly do for northeast in terms of economic development,” Eckhardt said. “Employers are rejecting Travis County and the city of Austin because of a lack of transit.”

Eighty percent, or $31,200, of the study’s cost, can come from federal money unlocked by the county’s move last year to partner with Capital Metro to provide service outside of the agency’s conventional jurisdiction.

Commissioner Margaret Gómez joined Daugherty in opposing funding the Green Line study. She cited the lack of robust bus service in southeastern Travis County for her decision.

Map courtesy of Capital Metro.

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