CapMetro and Council finalize urban rail plans

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Final decisions concerning urban rail will be made over the next week.

Capital Metro Board and Austin City Council members met at the Austin Convention Center on Tuesday to ask their final questions from project organizers before they take action next week.

While the board and council did not take public comment, the public has another week to call or e-mail city council members to let them know their thoughts on the urban rail project before they decide if they are going to adopt it on June 26.

The current plan outlines a 9.5-mile-long project from Austin Community College’s Highland campus to Grove Boulevard off east Riverside Drive, passing through downtown and the University of Texas campus. There would be four park-and-ride lots and 16 stations.

However, it will stop just a couple of miles short of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. While Project Connect said future expansion could ultimately reach the airport, rider demand weighed with the cost does not make it a viable spot for rail service just yet according to Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“If you extended it to the airport now, you’d have an increase in cost without an increase in ridership,” said Leffingwell.

The cost has been a big concern as well. It stands at $1.4 billion, with half coming from federal funds the other from bonds voters would have to approve. And planners anticipate another $22 million in yearly operating maintenance funds once the rail project is finished. Council has talked about adding in some specific road projects to the bond proposal for voters in November to sweeten the deal.

“This is an opportunity for them to make sure they are confident in the approach that we have for defining the project and how we are going to fund the project moving forward,” said Kyle Keahey, Urban Rail Project Lead.

Even if the voter approved bond does not pass, urban rail may not be a failed proposition.

“Clearly if one funding approach doesn’t work we will be looking at other options.  The one I think the mayor and others have indicated to us is now is the time, this is the approach we want to take, and we believe we have the support of the public, and to make sure we inform the public to make sure they are aware of the trade-offs there,” said Keahey.

Both the Cap Metro Board and City Council will vote on adopting the urban rail plan next week.

If passed, council then has until mid-August to decide the wording of the bond for the November ballot.

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