How Do You Get From Here ... to Here?
There's a vision of what Austin's transit system could some day be, but little consensus on where to take that all-important next step.
The next step is a doozy.
If all goes according to plan, the future course of mass transit in Central Texas will be decided within the next two weeks. After a series of public planning workshops (see below), the intergovernmental Project Connect: Central Corridor planning team will recommend to City Council which corridor to target for Austin's next big transit investment – presumably, the long awaited first link in an urban rail system, to be made ballot-ready for next November.
It's make or break time, for rail advocates. The MetroRail Red Line commuter rail project, built on existing track, has been almost like a proof-of-concept: Capital Metro can run a train line, and people like to ride it (if it goes where they want to go). But that's the problem. The Red Line doesn't go where people want to go. It bypasses the Capitol and UT. It doesn't connect areas of population density with employment centers. The next project has to do those things, and it has to work, and people have to use it – or else there won't be another project after that, and the pretty map you see to the right will stay a pipedream for the next 50 years. With that at stake, it's little wonder that people who are passionate about seeing rail work in Austin (and there are a lot of them) are, well, passionate, about the choices that have to be made.
Project Connect is on a rapid timetable at this point: A set of meetings in September defined five key issues or problems in the central corridor, and laid out criteria for evaluating sub-corridors. The current round of outreach is intended to "narrow the focus from 10 priority sub-corridor options to 1 which will move forward into Phase 2 of the study." City Council will get a briefing on that evaluation at its meeting on Nov. 21, and is supposed to make the final decision Dec. 12. Then in January, "Phase 2" discussions of specifics begin: With a corridor determined, and some goals in mind, the planning team will decide on the mode of transportation (light rail? streetcar? Bus Rapid Transit?) and the specific alignment of the proposed project. With that decision finalized by June, there would be time to organize and promote a city bond proposal for the November 2014 ballot.
It's considered a given that any plan starts with connecting the city's core – the Central Business District, Capitol complex, and UT – but beyond that, Project Connect planners insist that all ten of the priority sub-corridors are on the table, and each has advantages and limitations (clockwise from Northwest: MoPac, Lamar, Highland, Mueller, MLK, East Austin, East Riverside, SoCo, SoLa, West Austin). Still, given the compressed time frame, and the need to start with a north/south line within the core itself, Mueller and Lamar seem like heavy, logical favorites. The city has previously favored a Downtown-to-Mueller route, but there's a lot of vehement support for a Guadalupe/Lamar route, as well. Within the core, the two options go east or west of the Capitol and UT – the Red River corridor or the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor (think of it as Waller Creek or Shoal Creek, if you prefer). But while there's currently considerable rancor being expressed between proponents of the two routes, it's important to note that perhaps there's no wrong answer: The fully built-out transit system will have both routes (as shown on the overall map), and by 2050, no one will care which got built first.
As John-Michael Cortez, Community Involvement Manager for Capital Metro, attached to the Project Connect team, put it, "I think that at the end of the day, we'll all come together to support a project that makes sense."
Project Connect: Central Corridor Public Workshops
Where should our next investment in high-capacity transit go? Help answer that question in these public workshops, aimed at narrowing the focus from 10 priority sub-corridor options to one. Project Connect says there will be additional opportunities to provide input announced soon, but they'll have to hurry; they're already slated to present the findings to the city council's Central Corridor Advisory Group on Nov. 15, and to the full Council on Nov. 21.
Tuesday, Nov. 5: 6-8:30pm, Norris Conference Center, 2525 W. Anderson Ln., # 365
Wednesday, Nov. 6: 6-8:30pm, Faith United Methodist Church, 2701 S. Lamar
Thursday, Nov. 7: Noon-1:30pm, St. David's Episcopal Church, 301 E. Eighth
Webinar: Wednesday, Nov. 6: Noon-1:30pm; register at www.gotomeeting.com/register/334364358
Project Connect is the vision for Central Texas' high-capacity transit system, endorsed by the Transit Working Group, as a subcommittee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Learn more at www.projectconnect.com.