The Austin Chronicle

TWG Considers Green Line

By Katherine Gregor, December 5, 2008, News

The Transit Working Group reconvened Dec. 1 to begin evaluating a Capital Metro proposal for Green Line rail transit service along the congested Austin-Manor-Elgin corridor. Members of the Capital Area Metro­pol­itan Planning Organization requested additional information on projected ridership, total costs, land-use changes, and other options and assumptions; Cap Metro and CAMPO staff promised to provide the requested data at the next sessions, scheduled for Dec. 8 and 15.

Air quality was the most compelling rationale presented for pursuing rail transit instead of express bus lines or additional highway lanes. Central Texas is currently within 1 part per million of violating federal standards, said CAMPO Executive Director Joe Cantalupo; the region thus is likely to hit federal "nonattainment" status for air quality next year. The next ozone season, which begins April 1, will probably determine our status. If the region comes under federal restrictions, rail transit might be the only project allowed because it lowers polluting emissions, unlike additional road capacity. The other strong rationale presented for passenger rail was its positive track record for creating compact, energy-efficient growth patterns.

A CAMPO staff review found that the proposal met criteria outlined in the Transit Working Group's Transportation Invest­ment Decision Tree, Cantalupo reported. Staff also recommended adding the project to the CAMPO 2035 long-range regional transportation plan now under development, as required for federal action or funding. Asked by Transit Working Group Chair Will Wynn which should come first – incorporation into the 2035 plan, to be finalized June 2009, or voter approval – Cantalupo replied, "It would be your choice." He noted that voters might "want the confidence that this would be in the plan before an election." If so, that could push back a voter referendum from May to November 2009.

Right now, the Transit Working Group is vetting whether projects are desired; in a second phase, it will review financing plans, or what Wynn called the "painful process" of a "how will we pay for it" analysis. After sending a Green Line recommendation to the CAMPO board, the Transit Working Group will consider a second submittal from the city of Austin for an urban circulator "streetcar" project. Look for those deliberations at meetings set for Jan. 5, 12, and 26.

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