At the May 16 meeting of the Central Corridor Advisory Group, the Project Connect team was expected to offer its recommendation for phasing options for the initial route it had proposed on May 2 (from Highland Mall south to East Riverside). That didn't happen, but instead, the team presented three different options for the core plan, all starting at Grove & Riverside on the south end, and including a new bridge over Lady Bird Lake.
1) At an estimated $1.38 billion, with an estimated daily ridership of 16,000-20,000, the complete urban rail plan would run about 9.5 miles, from Riverside/Grove to Highland, including possibly a tunnel at Hancock Center. The annual operating costs would be around $22 million.
2) For an estimated $990 million, this alternative would run for about 7.3 miles, from Riverside/Grove to Hancock Center. It would serve about 13,000-17,000 riders daily, with annual operating costs of about $17.3 million.
3) The third option would run about 5.7 miles, from Riverside/Grove to the north edge of the UT campus, at Dean Keeton and San Jacinto, serving somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 riders each day. The least expensive of the options, it would cost about $820 million to build, with annual operating costs of just $13.5 million. Some opponents of the Highland corridor plan prefer this option, because it would presumably leave open the possibility of a subsequent western route along Guadalupe/Lamar.
Officials declined to make an official recommendation at the meeting, instead planning to spend the next few weeks finding which plan would garner the most support from voters. Ideally, under any plan chosen, the Federal Transit Administration would cover about half of the total cost, with bonds covering the rest – which is why officials hope to gauge public support before putting it to voters in a November bond election.
Going forward, CCAG is expected to vote on a plan before making its recommendation to the Austin City Council, the Capital Metro board, and the Lone Star Rail board of directors on June 13. On June 23, the CapMetro board is expected to vote on a plan, and the City Council will be asked to approve a plan on June 26. In order for a proposal to be on the November bond election, the City Council would have to do so by mid-August.
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