New Project Connect Maps Unveiled
Making rail a reality
By Benton Graham, Fri., March 24, 2023
Community members, Austin Transit Partnership staff, and city officials gathered in a sweaty Central Library space to take in five Project Connect rail design options during a March 21 open house. With inflation and constantly rising real estate prices pushing up costs, ATP, the group tasked with building the light rail system, presented five scaled-back options. The options cover less ground than the initial vision of an Orange Line, which would have run from North Lamar Transit Center to Stassney Lane, and a Blue Line, which would have run from North Lamar Transit Center to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Instead, the options seek to create the core for a rail system that can be expanded in the future. One of the five has the rails reaching the North Lamar Transit, but the other four have the northernmost point of the line between UT and 38th Street (the one that goes to 38th could extend to 45th). The segments south of the river are more complex. Two of the five would split once the rail crosses the river, with one track heading east through Pleasant Valley and the other continuing south on South Congress. Only one of the presented designs would reach the airport.
Project Connect's architects also considered when the train would be aboveground, underground, or at street level – a key question when trying to keep the cost at $5 billion in current-year dollars. While much of the previous discussion centered around putting rail underground in the Downtown area, only one option includes a stretch underground, and two would put the tracks aboveground from south of Eighth Street on Guadalupe to east of Auditorium Shores.
The open house kicked off a six-week public comment period, and people can visit publicinput.com/lightrailopenhouse to review designs and offer feedback. The ATP Board will then choose the final option in June, according to an ATP press release.
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