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Transit partnership fields Orange Line updates for Project Connect

Friday, June 25, 2021 by Seth Smalley

At the June 16 Austin Transit Partnership Board meeting, board members reviewed updates on the Project Connect Orange Line alignment.

The Orange Line, which shares several stops with the Blue Line, runs north and south through the center of the city. The north section covers Tech Ridge to the Drag, while the south section covers Slaughter Lane to Oltorf Street. The line also runs through downtown and along South Congress. Notable stops include St. Edward’s University, Auditorium Shores, Hyde Park, Republic Square and the Triangle.

The presentation covered walk-throughs of the environmental process, the engineering phase process, and construction contracts needed for the line.

“One of the key milestones I would like for you all to note in regard to the schedule is that in December of 2022 we have the final environmental impact statement and the record of decision completed,” said John Rhone, deputy program officer with the Austin Transit Partnership.

Rhone also mentioned that the transit partnership has recently received comments regarding the project development from the Federal Transit Administration.

“It’s important to note that everywhere the light rail system will go in the city, we’re also looking to see how we can improve the physical fabric of the city in a holistic kind of way,” said Peter Mullan, ATP’s chief of architecture and urban design. “We do take a holistic, human-centered design approach to the light rail system.”

In the summer of 2019, community advocates had pushed for surface-level track as opposed to above ground or below the surface. While the engineering firm AECOM was considering routes both above and below surface level because of the speed advantages they could confer, Jay Blazek Crossley, the executive director of Farm&City, said, “From a transit-user point of view what’s most important is the integration of the station into the place where it is, and surface is far superior to all the other options.”

Rhone also emphasized the importance of balance of the station spacing regarding speed and access.

“We’ve shown you before that we constantly consider a half-mile radius and a 10-minute walk area between the stations to be optimal,” he said. “We have a focus on development, the destination points for customers and riders, and how we interface with them for access to and from the station.”

During the public comment period, a familiar voice, Zenobia Joseph, complained that the Orange Line plan claims the initial investment began with North Lamar Transit Center.

“I think it’s disingenuous for that language to specify that the initial investment begins and ends at North Lamar Transit Center, because as you are aware, that is TxDOT’s right of way,” Joseph said. “While I understand that TxDOT is a cooperating agency, when Cap Metro approved the long-range vision map for Project Connect on Dec. 17, 2018, it was South of U.S. 183, because they don’t own the right of way. So in my opinion that is cooking the books.”

Community meetings will start at the end of July.

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