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Capital Metro board approves 2020 budget

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority may still be playing catch-up with some basic comforts like benches, shelters and waste bins at bus stops, but the agency promises to accelerate those smaller efforts while preparing for a high-capacity transit future in the upcoming fiscal cycle.

The Capital Metro Board of Directors unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2020 Operating and Capital Budget on Monday, for a sum of $403,689,177, about $16.3 million more than the previous year, for operations and various projects.

The agency cites Project Connect, the transit vision coming to voters in November 2020, as one primary reason for the increase in total expenses. Capital Metro is dedicating $17,623,799 to the project this year for preliminary engineering and environmental studies, compared to nearly $8 million in Fiscal Year 2018-19.

“It’s a gratifying thing to see the commitments that we’re making and to see a structurally sound budget, one in which we’re also able to fully fund our reserves and put away additional money for future obligations related to Project Connect and other capital improvements,” said board Chair Wade Cooper.

In the near term, Capital Metro plans to invest $109.7 million from the 2020 budget on capital projects, including traditional bus stop amenities like benches, shelters and waste bins, as well as enhancements like solar lighting at stops with shelters. The agency has dedicated nearly $4 million to bus stop enhancements, enough to add amenities at 125 locations and solar lighting at 80 sheltered stops. The budget includes another $1.2 million for new bus stops.

With the city’s first two electric buses rolling out in December, Capital Metro will be investing in its North Ops smart electric bus yard over the next year. While completing design work on the facility, the agency will also install two chargers that together will be able to charge up to 10 buses, in preparation for future phases of its fleet electrification plan.

Ongoing construction of Downtown Station accounts for roughly $9 million of the 2020 capital improvements budget. So far, construction of the temporary Downtown Station and the bridge over Waller Creek has been funded by the 2019 budget, at a total of more than $5.6 million.

As part of overall MetroRail improvements, Capital Metro has been adding rail capacity by “double tracking,” or adding parallel tracks, to segments along the Red Line corridor. To comply with federal standards, the agency is required to implement “positive train control,” a safety system designed to prevent train collisions, derailments or issues caused by track misalignment.

After approving the 2020 budget on Monday, the board approved a modification and 12-month extension to its contract with Modern Railway Systems, the firm conducting engineering services for both double tracking and positive train control systems. The additional $7 million requested, including $2.1 million in contingency, will be drawn from the 2020 budget.

The agency has allocated a total of $11.4 million to positive train control in the 2020 fiscal year. According to David Dech, Capital Metro’s vice president of rail operations, all of the ongoing double tracking and signal work would be rendered useless without that added security.

After expenses, Capital Metro will have $161 million to allocate to reserves and future funds. The agency will also dedicate $4.7 million of those funds into city of Austin mobility programs.

Photo by Paul Kimo McGregor made available through a Creative Commons license.

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