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Light rail plan would have runaway ridership, according to backers

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

A light rail line on Guadalupe Street and N. Lamar Boulevard would likely move tens of thousands of people per day, according to the nonprofit pushing for referendum on the project this November. The Central Austin Community Development Corporation released a study prepared by a local transit advocate. It found that a $400 million, 5.2-mile route that starts at N. Lamar and Airport boulevards and ends at Republic Square Park would immediately attract an average of 34,000 riders every weekday. That number has a margin of error of 9,000 riders. “This ridership estimate is conservative because it does not take into account transfers from buses and trains inside the city’s busiest transit corridor,” a press release accompanying the study results said. By comparison, the $600 million, 9.5-mile light rail route voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2014 was projected to reach a maximum of 20,000 weekday riders eight years after its launch. Meanwhile, Capital Metro’s MetroRail commuter line, which runs 32 miles from Leander to downtown Austin, saw an average of 2,600 weekday riders in May of this year, according to the transit agency. While the CACDC’s numbers seem impressive, the political will seems to be lacking in the upper echelons of city and regional government. Capital Metro CEO Linda Watson earlier this year told the Austin Monitor that the city is “not ready” for rail, and Mayor Steve Adler conspicuously left rail out of his $720 million bond proposal. Both have pledged to resume rail discussions in the future. Capital Metro is poised to begin that conversation with the reboot later this year of Project Connect, the same planning partnership that created the 2014 rail proposal.

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