The Austin Chronicle

Project Connect Nears Rail Route Decision

By Mac McCann, November 15, 2013, News

This Friday, Nov. 15, Project Connect, the regional planning initiative under the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), will present its first formal recommendation for which Austin sub-corridor to prioritize to receive light rail. In due course, the recommendation will proceed for approval to City Council and to the regional planning groups. Two days before they announce their far-reaching decision, project officials say they haven't made a decision, and would still like more public input.

In preparation, Project Connect hosted four meetings last week, three public workshops, and a webinar, with the content roughly the same in each. An estimated overall total of 100 to 150 people attended – the Thursday meeting attracted more than 50.

Capital Metro's Communications Specialist John Julitz said the meetings both informed and gathered public input: Attendees ranked various criteria and offered their preferences for the priority sub-corridor, with the public debate still divided between "Guadalupe/Lamar" and "Congress/Mueller." (Officials say the "core corridor" – the Capitol, Down­town Austin, and the UT-Austin campus – will be served regardless of which of the various sub-corridors is chosen, though there's considerable controversy over whether the populous West Campus area should be considered part of the core if it's not served by an eastern alignment.)

John-Michael Cortez, Community Involve­ment Manager for Capital Metro, said, "I think the meetings went great. ... People were engaged and seemed to appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the process." He added that he hopes for additional public involvement. "The only thing I would ask is, we need to get more people involved," he said. "This is an investment, essentially, that will shape the course of our community for the next several decades, generations, so we need the entire community involved at some level." Julitz agreed. "We need that consensus, and we need the public input, so it's a very important criteria for this process."

The project is still very much a work in progress. There's an online survey for additional input, and Project Connect is planning to host one more public meeting, a "Com­mun­ity Con­versation," tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 26, at City Hall, though that's 11 days after they make their routing recommendation.

As of press time, Julitz said the team hasn't settled on recommendations, and "there are merits to doing some sort of investment in all of the sub- corridors." The project team, he said, will continue analyzing all of the data and research regarding ridership, congestion, business development, etc. as well as the public opinion before making a final decision.

The recommendation will be presented to the Central Corridor Advisory Group (CCAG) at their Nov. 15 meeting (1:30pm at City Council Chambers; open to the public, and televised on cable channel 6). If accepted, the recommendation will go to City Council, then to the boards of Capital Metro and Lone Star Rail, before being presented to voters in a bond election anticipated next November.

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