Best Alternative: Regional Rail

RECEIVED Wed., April 18, 2007

Dear Editor,
    Re: “Fixing 290: A Different Alternative" [News, April 13]: There is another alternative to help "fix" U.S. 290/Highway 71 West (290/71) through Oak Hill, and that is regional (aka commuter) rail.
    When I was chair of the Urban Transportation Commission, I supported (and now continue to support) the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods' valiant and justified efforts to influence the character of TxDOT's plans to expand capacity of 290/71 West. It is only right for surrounding neighborhoods to have input into a massive highway project that will have such a major impact on their lives and mobility. I applaud TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh's promise to meet with 290/71 stakeholders.
    However, installing regional rail within the right-of-way of a renovated 290/71, from Downtown Austin to the 290/71 "Y" would give Oak Hill residents a "time-certain" travel alternative to their private automobiles, to current bus service, and even to future Rapid Bus service. Rapid Bus will be stuck in the same stop-and-go traffic as private automobiles on 290/71, expanded or not. Regional rail could utilize the same Park & Ride facility at the Y, now planned for Rapid Bus. Also, more sustainable land uses could develop around a “fixed” transportation (rail) stop.
    The costs, of course, of building a regional rail line to Oak Hill, within the existing right-of-way of 290/71 to and from Downtown Austin, would be significant. But don't we need to consider allowing the sizable population of the Oak Hill area the alternative of commuting by regional rail while such a major highway redesign is being planned? Environmentalists might (initially) object to installing regional rail service over both the recharge and contributing zones of the Edwards Aquifer, but I believe they would quickly realize that rail service is far preferable to the pollution that private automobiles would produce carrying the same number of passengers regional trains could accommodate.
Andrew Clements
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