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Tuesday, November 19, 2019 by Ryan Thornton
City, Capital Metro, to consider new vision for Red Line trail
In the past week, the city of Austin and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority have each passed resolutions to renew interest in creating a 32-mile transit- and trail-oriented corridor with hike and bike trails, parks, and easy access to transit stations and development along the Metro Rail Red Line.
Capital Metro marked 2019 for completion of a Red Line hike and bike trail in the 2007 Rails-with-Trails Feasibility Study, but roughly 85 percent of the trail corridor is missing today. A local nonprofit organization, the Red Line Parkway Initiative, is taking advantage of that gap in the trailway to promote a more robust vision that would include separate use paths for walking and biking, small pocket parks and grade-separated crossings at intersections.
Lacking an alternative holistic vision for the corridor, both City Council and the Capital Metro Board of Directors have now approved resolutions to consider partnering with each other and with the Red Line Parkway Initiative to create a Red Line Parkway Plan and determine what role each jurisdiction and organization will have in the plan development phase and parkway operations.
Tom Wald, executive director of the nonprofit, told the Austin Monitor on Monday that if things go smoothly, the parkway trails could be mostly complete by about 2035. There may still be some small parks, trail segments and separated grade crossings to complete, but the trails themselves should be there.
Capital Metro and city staff will be reporting on the resolutions around spring of next year before moving forward. If either decides to initiate public-private partnerships, the next phase will be to refine the plan details and consider funding mechanisms.
Depending on how the plan develops, Wald said there’s potential to secure some of the needed funds in November of next year as part of the anticipated 2020 transportation bond. All in all, he said the organization has identified around a dozen possible funding sources from municipal and county bonds to private or philanthropic donations and tax increment financing districts, the latter of which the city may now be considering to help fund two Red Line stations in North Austin.
Generally speaking, Wald said, there is more space and opportunity for parks and trails in Capital Metro’s right of way north of MoPac Expressway. Between MoPac and downtown, there may be several pinch points where the agency may be tempted to push back on parkway plans to preserve space for double-tracking or other rail projects and operations.
Capital Metro will have more information on right of way constraints early next year when it has completed its study on Metro Rail double-tracking. CEO Randy Clarke said staffers are currently working with the city on developing plans for bike connections and bike facilities at transit stations. Around March of next year, he said, the board could consider bicycles more holistically along with this plan as opposed to thinking about them in terms of specific projects.
Wald said the parkway vision is similar to successful rail and trail corridors like the Atlanta BeltLine and the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis. Fortunately, he said, there’s a lot of underused land such as water retention and detention ponds along the Red Line corridor that could be converted to public parks. Additionally, there are tons of opportunities for small pocket parks that would have enough space for a few benches or a small playground.
The Red Line Parkway Initiative is hosting a launch party Thursday in celebration of the renewed effort. The event will start at 5:30 p.m. at Palm Door at 401 Sabine St. Tickets can be purchased at RLPI.org/launch.
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