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CTRMA agrees to help with MetroRail station relocation, if necessary

Friday, June 29, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Austin’s toll road agency is volunteering to be a financial backstop for the city’s transit provider should a bid for federal dollars to relocate a train station run off the rails.

On Wednesday the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Board of Directors voted 4-0 to approve the deal that would help the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority move MetroRail’s Kramer Station half a mile north to service the planned Broadmoor redevelopment site.

Private sector partners Brandywine Realty and Charles Schwab have agreed to put up just over half of the relocation’s $16.7 million price tag. Capital Metro will contribute $1 million of its own money and is seeking a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant to cover the rest.

Wednesday’s resolution allows CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein to work with Capital Metro and the developers to develop a plan for funding assistance from the toll road agency should the feds shoot down the agency’s BUILD grant application. The resolution stipulates that any funding provided by the CTRMA must be paid back.

Heiligenstein explained at the beginning of the discussion that he and Chair Ray Wilkerson recently sat down with representatives from Brandywine.

“The chairman and I – particularly the chairman – made it very clear that in no situation would we entertain a project like this unless there was some kind of revenue stream that would back it up and provide a way to support any involvement we might have, whatever that may be,” Heiligenstein said.

The existing Kramer Station sits in a relative industrial desert on Kramer Lane just east of Burnet Road. The new location would be sandwiched by the Broadmoor development on the west and the new Charles Schwab campus on the east, both of which are expected to employ more than 20,000 workers. The Broadmoor project will also feature 2,200 housing units.

A planned plaza adjacent to the station on the Broadmoor side would allow for a circulator bus to run between the station and the nearby Domain. It would also feature a park-and-ride garage large enough for 400 cars.

CTRMA Deputy Executive Director Jeff Dailey told the board that Capital Metro expects the relocation to “significantly increase” MetroRail ridership.

However, Capital Metro Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development Todd Hemingson told the Austin Monitor that the agency does not have specific ridership projections yet due to the uncertainty of the station relocation’s timing and whether it will happen before or after planned upgrades to the Red Line.

“So we don’t know what level of service we’ll be operating when the station is completed, and therefore don’t have enough information to accurately project ridership,” Hemingson said. “However, we are confident that the site (which is the where the agency originally wanted to place the station) will see significantly higher ridership as a result of improved access to jobs, residences and other factors.”

The existing Kramer Station originally cost $1.3 million to build and saw an average of 250 boardings per day this spring. Its MetroBike shelter, which will also be relocated, stores approximately 180 bikes each month.

The agency had previously applied for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to cover the relocation funding gap. Despite garnering letters of support from Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Council Member Leslie Pool, state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, state Sen. Kirk Watson and even Sen. John Cornyn, the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected that bid.

“They basically said we had a strong application but that the competition was intense and that only two transit projects were funded nationwide,” Hemingson explained to the Monitor. “As I mentioned at the CTRMA meeting this morning, we believe the change in project selection criteria under BUILD will improve our chances since there’s a bigger focus on using public funding to incent private investment (and that’s what the project does).”

In addition, whereas the last round of TIGER funding added up to $500 million, the BUILD program – itself a retooled version of TIGER – has put $1.5 billion up for grabs.

Board Member John Langmore praised the station relocation but questioned the idea of the CTRMA making a temporary loan and pondered how it could be repaid.

“That could be done in any number of ways,” Dailey replied. “There’s ways we could work with the developer through their leasing aspect of it. There’s ways we structure the loan that may work with Capital Metro based on their cash flow too. That’d have to be worked out.”

The city of Austin could also create a transportation reinvestment zone around the station to help finance the loan repayment.

Seeking to justify the proposal just before the vote, Wilkerson reiterated that the CTRMA is not simply a “pavement company” whose sole mission is to build toll roads.

“This does have the park-and-ride part of it and it would provide some relief on MoPac and other areas because it would create a much more accessible situation,” he said.

Board Member David Singleton did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, and two other board members recused themselves from the discussion. Board Member Nikelle Meade explained that her law firm does legal work for Capital Metro while Board Member David Armbrust said that one of his law partners, Richard Suttle, is involved with the Major League Soccer stadium proposal on the McKalla Place tract just south of the current Kramer Station.

Precourt Sports Ventures, the firm proposing to relocate the Columbus Crew SC to a new stadium built at that site, has suggested that it could perhaps be serviced by a brand new MetroRail station. However, neither PSV nor Capital Metro has expressed interest in funding that project, which means that, if the Kramer Station is moved north, the 20,000-person stadium would only have public transit access via the Nos. 3 and 383, which run every 30 minutes on Burnet Road.

Photo by Tampasteve (talk) (Uploads), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

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