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AECOM wins Orange Line preliminary engineering contract

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority began advertising a contract for preliminary engineering design services and mode recommendations for the Project Connect 21-mile high-capacity Orange Line on Dec. 18, the day after the agency’s board of directors approved Project Connect‘s long-term vision plan.

Now, after receiving three responses in January and negotiating with the most qualified firm, the Capital Metro board has unanimously approved a roughly $12 million contract with AECOM for a multi-year process of helping the agency select an official mode of transportation (Autonomous Rapid Transit, Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit), conduct preliminary engineering and guide the National Environmental Policy Act environmental analysis.

The Project Connect vision plan currently lists three possible mode options (buses or rail or an autonomous version of either) for the Orange Line and has it running through Austin from the Parmer Center at the northern terminus down to its southern terminus at Slaughter Lane (along the same path as Capital Metro’s highest-performing route, the 801 MetroRapid line).

At the March 25 board meeting, Project Connect program manager Dave Couch said the first phase of the contract will last one year and will ideally result in the selection of a locally preferred alternative (mode) for the Orange Line by this time next year. Capital Metro will then bring that LPA choice to the board for approval, and once approved, will begin the second phase with two years of additional preliminary engineering and the preparation of the environmental impact analysis documentation.

The first phase will cost $5,082,528.34 with an additional 10 percent contingency, about half of which is available in the agency’s Fiscal Year 2019 operating budget. The second phase will likely take a minimum of two years and may require a third year, with the cost yet to be determined.

Couch said the specifics of the second phase will be detailed after the agency has specified basic details about the route, like what type of vehicles will be used, where they will run and whether they will run below, above or at ground level.

“At this point, not knowing what each one of the features are, not knowing what mode is going to be chosen through that process, we have to go ahead and leave that as a second phase to be negotiated once those decision points are made,” Couch said.

In the meantime, Couch said part of AECOM’s contract will be to work with the community on answering questions and requesting feedback on the Orange Line corridor. The first of such efforts will be an open-house meeting at the Austin Central Library on Monday, April 8, from 3-7 p.m. The public is invited to attend the meeting, talk with Federal Transit Administration officials, ask questions, and provide feedback on the Orange Line. Couch said the community’s feedback will be used to inform future decisions about mode and alignment.

Couch added that the Blue Line, Project Connect’s other high-capacity line, is not far behind in the process. Capital Metro received final proposals on Monday, April 1, and will be taking a contract to the board for approval at its April 22 meeting. Once approved, the Blue Line will follow the same public engagement, mode selection and preliminary engineering steps as the Orange Line before moving into the final preliminary engineering and environmental impact phase.

The agency will also be requesting proposals for its seven “BRT Light” corridors in April and expects to bring those contracts to the board for approval in June or July. Requests for proposal for Project Connect Metro Express lines and Park & Rides will follow in the summer.

With the November 2020 election in mind, Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke said the timelines of the various Project Connect components, whether the high-capacity Orange and Blue lines, commuter rail Green Line, BRT Light lines, or Park & Rides, are each on a schedule that should allow any individual project to be sufficiently developed by spring 2020 to be added to the ballot in November.

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