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CapMetro approves Project Connect vision plan

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s long-term vision plan was adopted by the agency’s board of directors Monday afternoon. As per Project Connect program manager Dave Couch, the map – an array of intersecting and parallel lines of various colors and styles – is the result of a decision made two years ago to study the transportation corridors throughout the region that could best support and most benefit from high-capacity transit. Each line on the map represents a corridor where the agency hopes to eventually obtain dedicated right of way to finally get transit users out of traffic and to their destinations in a reasonable amount of time.

According to Chair Wade Cooper, the corridors were chosen and analyzed based on a number of criteria, such as access to jobs, housing costs vs. income, car ownership and population density.

In getting to this point, Capital Metro has teamed up with city representatives to steer the public conversation away from mode. Community conversations were held throughout the city requesting comment specifically on the corridors, an issue that a number of local transit advocates have argued is inseparable from the question of which types of vehicles will be moving through those corridors. Between the community conversations and online comments, Couch said the agency has managed to receive over 400 public comments on the vision plan, largely avoiding discussion of trains, buses and autonomous rapid transit.

Project Connect’s two-year process which still leaves much up in the air has already frustrated a number of individuals who feel that the project’s pace is not keeping up with immediate need for high-capacity regional transit. State Rep. Celia Israel spoke to the press before the board meeting and lamented the disjointed and drawn-out process that Project Connect is caught in and which is expected to carry on for many more years. When asked for comment, Israel replied, “I wish I could say that it was getting more real; what’s getting real is the pain that each and every driver is feeling.”

Capital Metro board members, government representatives and community members alike express a similar urgency. Mayor Steve Adler and State Senator Kirk Watson both urged the board to move forward with bold action and not let perfect become the enemy of the good. In even starker terms, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the board that waiting for a perfect plan may not only kill Austin transit, but “may quite literally kill us.”

For its part, Capital Metro wants the community to know that its transit concerns are being heard. Since the vision plan went public on Oct. 1, Couch said the public engagement process has resulted in the addition of eight corridors for study and three alternatives for a connection between the high-capacity Blue Line to Republic Square. These are all still secondary or even tertiary corridors relative to the high-capacity Orange and Blue lines which will each require federal approval and could easily end up the only two corridors on the ballot in 2020. Also of note is the added MLK corridor, which has reappeared on the map in a compromised form now running east to Airport Boulevard with the eventual possibility of extending beyond U.S. Highway 183.

At its core, Project Connect is a long-term, regional vision that is just beginning to gain the momentum it will need to be successful. Because the Federal Transit Agency does not approve entire systems like the vision plan for funding, the vision is inherently subject to further modifications beyond the two high-capacity corridors, which will be the main focus of the National Environmental Policy Act review set to begin in early 2019. As study begins on those corridors, Couch said Capital Metro intends to continue taking comments on the vision plan throughout next year.

Map courtesy of Capital Metro.

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