Project Connect's Blue Line to Connect Austin Airport to Downtown

The next step in Cap Metro's high-capacity transit plan

The proposed Blue Line runs from the airport along Riverside Drive, crosses Lady Bird Lake via a new tunnel or bridge, and ends on the east side of the UT campus.
The proposed Blue Line runs from the airport along Riverside Drive, crosses Lady Bird Lake via a new tunnel or bridge, and ends on the east side of the UT campus.

After a Monday, May 20, Blue Line open house, Capital Metro's dreams of operating a high-capacity transit system are becoming clearer, if not happening any sooner.

If the proposed Orange Line unveiled by Cap Metro in April runs along Austin's spine, the Blue Line traces its right hand, running east/west from Austin-Bergstrom Inter­na­tion­al Airport, down Riverside Drive, and into Downtown where it will connect with Orange's north/south route on or near Lamar Boulevard. As proposed, the Blue Line will continue to the University of Texas campus, with a possible extension traveling to Austin Community College's Highland Campus. Both lines are part of Capital Metro's Project Con­nect vision and planning process for high-capacity transit serving Central Texas.

The Blue Line, like the Orange, would provide that service along the two dedicated transit-only guideways approved by City Council in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. As Dave Couch, Cap Metro's program officer for Project Connect, told the Chronicle, dedicated congestion-free right of way is the "key" for high capacity – if the vehicle is "sitting in traffic it isn't going to work."

But the Blue Line's creation will be complicated by its need to cross Lady Bird Lake. Unlike the Orange Line, proposed to use the Drake Bridge (Guadalupe/Lavaca/South First), the Blue Line needs to find a new way across the water, whether bridge or tunnel. Couch said Cap Metro is looking at both options to see which fits best – tunneling offers "out of sight" congestion-free mobility, but "you have to be able to get into it at each end. It's a lot of work."

The transit authority is also pondering how to secure dedicated right of way along the Drag near the UT campus, Couch said. "Is that something that is above [ground]? Below? Is the vehicle at street level and regular traffic is above or below ground?" Solving these pieces of the Project Connect puzzle is "going to take longer" than other parts, Couch acknowledged.

In addition to the Orange and Blue lines, the full Project Connect vision includes Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Light service – similar to the existing MetroRapid 801 and 803 routes – on a number of corridors. These, said Couch, will be simpler to get up and running on existing streets and don't require the same environmental or engineering work as high- capacity services, but are still essential to bumping up Austin's overall transit ridership. "People can't lose track that [the Blue Line] is but one line, and it all works as a system."

While Monday's Project Connect open house shows the planning process in motion, implementation is still well in the future. Key decisions about bridges or tunnels, or what type of vehicle will be deployed on the Blue and Orange lines, will be answered over the next several years, Couch said; Project Connect's preferred alternative on the baseline question of bus vs. rail on those lines is expected to be offered by March 2020 – when the engineering and environmental work required for federal funding would begin, which is expected to take another two years. Meanwhile, voters in November 2020 will likely be asked to consider local financing options for Project Connect.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Capital Metro
Eastside Parents Want Bus Routes Back
Eastside Parents Want Bus Routes Back
Reduced service in Montopolis, Johnston Terrace bad for students, activists claim

Austin Sanders, Feb. 8, 2019

Austin at Large: Let’s Get Connected Again
Austin at Large: Let’s Get Connected Again
What we can do now to prepare for the mobility future

Mike Clark-Madison, Dec. 21, 2018

More by Sarah Marloff
Protesters Descend On Leander Family Pride Event
Protesters Descend On Leander Family Pride Event
LGBTQ activists and allies turn out to support attendees

June 15, 2019

Qmmunity: On Finding Queer Joy
Qmmunity: On Finding Queer Joy
Plus, more Pride events to help you forget it’s hot outside

June 14, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Project Connect, Capital Metro, Dave Couch, Blue Line, Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, Orange Line

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle