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Friday, November 20, 2020 by Ryan Thornton
City prepares next steps for Bergstrom Spur trail
After holding a virtual open house on the Bergstrom Spur this summer, the city’s Urban Trails Program, in collaboration with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is finalizing planning concepts for converting the abandoned rail line into a six-mile trail and transit corridor.
For next steps, Urban Trails has partnered with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to negotiate purchase of the corridor’s western segment, the only piece not owned by the city. With those negotiations already underway, the city will soon begin the process of identifying funding for the corridor’s short-term plans and preparing to begin construction within the next five years.
The Bergstrom Spur runs east-west in South Austin from Vinson Drive to U.S. Highway 183 at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The rail corridor was previously owned and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad.
So far, no money has been allocated or identified for the trail project beyond the costs of the corridor planning study and acquisition of the western segment from Vinson Drive to around Terry-O Lane west of I-35. However, with the passage of Proposition B this month, that could soon change. Katie Wettick, urban trails program manager with the Public Works Department, told City Council’s Mobility Committee on Thursday that the corridor is considered a high-priority tier 1 urban trail, making it a good candidate for Prop B dollars.
At a total of $460 million for active mobility and multimodal projects, Prop B includes $80 million for urban trails.
The near-term corridor concepts feature separated bicycle and pedestrian paths for the entire stretch of the corridor, except where the paths are combined into a shared-use path at major crossings like Interstate 35. In the long term, if the corridor is sufficiently developed, the plans envision adding separated transitways in the corridor right-of-way for the central segment, then adjacent to the trail corridor in the eastern segment.
The transitways would connect the airport with the South Congress Transit Center, linking passengers with both of Project Connect’s high-capacity light rail lines. The transitways would also connect with Project Connect’s Pleasant Valley MetroRapid line, providing an opportunity to have a transit stop where the trail intersects with Todd Lane.
Wettick said higher-density development would be necessary to increase demand for transit and make it viable along the corridor. This is especially true for the long-term plans, which include consideration of high-capacity rail transit along the spur with transitways tunneling under I-35 to avoid traffic conflicts on the surface. High-capacity transit would likely not be pursued for at least 20 years.
To facilitate those higher levels of activity, Wettick said the city could encourage dense, transit-oriented developments along the spur while transit stops at Todd Lane and South Congress Transit Center could become attractive destinations with food trucks and businesses, outdoor seating, playscapes and public art.
The Bergstrom Spur was noted in City Council’s June 10 resolution adopting the Project Connect system plan. The resolution stated that Project Connect may ultimately be revised to include corridors like the Bergstrom Spur as new transit studies are finalized.
To begin construction in the short term, the city will need to receive permission from Austin Energy to build the trails next to transmission lines. In the long term, Wettick said, it will likely be necessary to relocate the utility’s transmission towers. “This will be at the expense of the project, so it’s really important to bring Austin Energy into these conversations early,” Wettick added.
Council Member Ann Kitchen has been in favor of converting the rail corridor into an urban trail for the past several years. “It’s been a long time coming,” Kitchen said Monday. “It’s been a project in the works for a long time and a dream for a lot of folks in the city, including in South Austin, to have that kind of trail access and perhaps at some point a transit access.”
This story has been changed since publication to correct the boundaries of the western segment of the trail. The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council Mobility Committee: A City Council committee that reviews matters related to all modes of transportation.