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Capital Metro pitches in for new East Austin bus station

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors approved a 40-year interlocal agreement Monday, July 29, with the Capital Area Rural Transportation System for construction and joint operation of the Eastside Bus Plaza, a transit station at the convergence of East Cesar Chavez and East Fifth streets.

Meant to serve as a connection point between the transportation agencies’ service areas, David Marsh, general manager of CARTS, said the facility will be a significant expansion on a partnership that dates back several decades.

“Since 1986, CARTS and Capital Metro have been engaged in a partnership to make sure that our two services are aligned and coordinated and that we do things that make sense for the region together,” Marsh said. “This will be a new step: This will be the highest and best level that we’ve ever achieved.”

CARTS recently closed its operations at 2010 East Sixth St. and relocated its Austin transit hub, with a modest passenger lobby and ticket office, to Plaza Saltillo, a move that Marsh said has made the plaza both more vibrant and safer. Marsh said the rural transportation agency expects the new bus plaza to have a similar effect on the surrounding area.

“The Eastside Bus Plaza was originally dedicated to be a rest area on old Highway 20 in the 30s,” Marsh said. “Never happened: It’s been sitting there all that time. The fact that it now gets to be brought to life and turned into a vibrant part of the neighborhood in East Austin is something we’re very proud of.”

The Texas Department of Transportation, owner of the property, has negotiated a long-term agreement with CARTS for its use as a transportation hub.

The $6.3 million transit facility will feature 10 bus bays, an air-conditioned terminal facility with public restrooms and concessions, a minimal amount of vehicle parking space, and dedicated scooter and bike storage.

In exchange for $1.5 million in local funds and 13 used seating benches, CARTS will grant Capital Metro a license to operate out of three dedicated bus bays and one shared bus bay, reserve a MetroAccess loading area and make use of 24-hour driver restrooms and rest areas.

As part of the site plan, Capital Metro will be making improvements to its on-site bus stop facing East Cesar Chavez Street and also plans to install a new westbound bus stop to the north across East Fifth Street.

Capital Metro’s high-frequency Route 4 terminates at the plaza and routes 17 and 350 both have stops on the site perimeter. The plaza is also at the eastern terminus of the proposed Project Connect bus rapid transit Pink Line.

Transit patrons will be able to make use of the facility’s public restrooms but only during CARTS’ hours of operations at the station. CARTS currently operates Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Plaza Saltillo.

Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke said while the agency is aware of the need for public restrooms for its customers, they represent a significant challenge, not the least of which is the funding required to maintain them.

As Project Connect takes shape in the future, Clarke said the agency may think more seriously about where public restrooms may be appropriate.

Council Member Pio Renteria motioned to approve the interlocal agreement, passing 8-0.

“I’m excited about that project,” said board Chair Wade Cooper. “I occasionally ride my bike down Shady Lane there and it’s a little bit of a wasteland.”

Map by McCann Adams Studio via CARTS.

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