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Early work happening now to build Austin’s first modern light rail lines

Friday, April 23, 2021 by Nathan Bernier, KUT

Austin has never had modern light rail before. It won’t for a while. The Orange and Blue lines are projected to open to the public in 2029. The rail lines are just part of a multibillion-dollar plan approved by voters in November called Project Connect.

Crews already finished taking soil samples under Lady Bird Lake where a new bridge will carry the Blue Line, and samples are being extracted from beneath Guadalupe Street in preparation to build a rail tunnel downtown. To ensure a solid foundation and safe infrastructure, civil engineers need to understand exactly what type of earth they’ll be installing bridge piers or boring tunnels through.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently finished a survey of heritage trees along the light rail routes. Those trees, with a diameter of 24 inches or more, are afforded greater protections under the city code. The agency is doing archaeological and environmental assessments and working toward getting federal regulatory approvals.

Carving continuous rail lines through the city will require Capital Metro to acquire some real estate, said Dave Couch with Austin Transit Partnership, a local government corporation created to implement Project Connect. In some cases, that may result in the displacement of homes or businesses.

“My hope is that there are not going to be a tremendous number of requirements that we will take a full piece of property,” Couch said, adding that they hope only to need “slivers” of land a few feet wide in most cases. “That’s right now in the development, and it’s not something that … we’re going to have finite answers” until a number of months from now.

The Blue Line will run from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Interstate 35, turn right on the dedicated bridge across the lake, then turn left to run through an underground tunnel downtown and meet up with the Orange Line at Republic Square. Both trains will run from downtown north to the North Lamar Transit Center just past U.S. Highway 183.

The Orange Line will initially run from Stassney Lane through downtown and north to the North Lamar Transit Center. You can see all of the Project Connect changes on this map.

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