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Cap Metro fields updates on Project Connect

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 by Seth Smalley

During the July 19 meeting of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, members fielded a discussion and presentation regarding Project Connect. The presentation covered prominent dates; Blue, Orange and Red rail line updates; and MetroRapid bus line updates.

The Orange Line will run north and south through the center of the city, sharing several stops with the Blue Line after crossing Lady Bird Lake. The Blue Line begins at the airport and runs east and west along Riverside, until crossing the river around I-35 (including a stop in Travis Heights). Notable stops of the Orange Line include the South Congress Transit Center, St. Edward’s, Oltorf and Auditorium Shores, while notable stops of the Blue Line include Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Montopolis and Rainey Street. Prominent shared stops between the two lines include Republic Square Park, the Capitol building, Hyde Park and the Triangle.

“We started the final design of the McKalla station and on Broadmoor they’re finishing off some of the portions that have to do with drainage and environmental considerations. We’ve also got Leander to Lakeline for which we’re looking at the parking rights, and how the ridership will be going out into the future,” said David Couch, a program officer with Project Connect.

Couch mentioned funding is in place for MetroRapid, and that Capital Metro is moving forward with the 30 percent design phase.

“The (Federal Transit Administration) is now assigned with the core project management oversight contractor; they review all the documentation that we have,” Couch told the board.

The Blue Line is still in the 15 percent design phase.

“We have coordinated with the city and stakeholders to get comments and review on each one of those. We’re in process right now with the resolution,” Couch said, before adding that the process of going from the 15 percent to 30 percent design phase is “not a time to add new items, it’s a time to develop it into a greater level of detail.”

Seven out of the 10 necessary borings for the Blue and Orange light rail lines have been completed. Couch estimated the 30 percent design and cost estimate for the Blue and Orange lines will be complete by summer 2022.

Regarding public input, Couch mentioned the public desire for local artwork to be incorporated into the station design and smooth integration with the park system.

“We’ve also heard from some people concern about the availability of food trucks and other conveniences,” he said.

During the public comment period, Zenobia Joseph, a longtime advocate and Northeast Austin resident, drew attention to Capital Metro leadership’s apparent surface-level devotion to equity and diversity, a discrepancy between their language and actions. While the board packet mentions equity 83 times and diversity 87 times, Joseph pointed out that Black people in Northeast Austin still regularly wait over 60 minutes for the bus.

“And so, I get that you have the right words on paper. For the Federal Transit Administration – unless they come to Austin and do an investigation – it will look as though everything is well and good in Austin when it’s not,” Joseph said to the board, as members looked at screens and fiddled with writing utensils. “You have language here saying that you’re committed to connecting people and communities to jobs and opportunities, when in fact you eliminated north, east, west connectivity on routes 392, 323, 325. Walmart to Walmart.”

Joseph pointed specifically to an Aug. 7 resolution, passed by the Capital Metro board last year, that left many people with longer wait times.

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