Austin's Five Light Rail Options
From the front-runner plans to the also-rans, here's what could be
Option 2 – The Front-Runner
On-Street: North Lamar to Pleasant Valley
This option stole the show for a number of attendees at the March 21 open house. The line would carry almost 40,000 average daily riders – the most of any option and around the same as the Red Line's monthly ridership. It appeared to score highest in each of the four characteristics evaluated by ATP: mobility & customer experience, access to opportunities, environmental benefits, and land use & housing. It offers two river crossing options – South First or Trinity Street – and would connect to Crestview Station, allowing it to link up with the Red Line. However, that benefit also presents the challenge of needing to create grade separation from the Red Line – the two lines would operate on different rail types (freight and light). Alex Karner, a nonvoting member of the CAC and regional planning professor at UT, conducted his own analysis of the data, finding that Options 1 and 2 would be within a half-mile of more homes and jobs than the other three. He also said Option 2 "completely dominates the other alternatives."
Option 1 – The Flex Option
On-Street: 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket
This offers the same river crossing options as Option 2 but would split into two lines after crossing. This option also lists flex segments that could extend to 45th Street at the north end and St. Edwards Drive at the south end. What are flex segments? Depending on where the line crosses the river, these are sections that we might have the budget for but can't guarantee, an ATP spokesperson said. While ATP is not banking on it, coming in under budget is a possibility that could allow for more investment in any of the options, even though this option is the only one with built-in flex segments.
Option 3 – The One With the Airport
On-Street: 29th to Airport
The community will also weigh in on the importance running to the airport. This is the only option that extends that far – largely elevated from Ben White to the airport, but otherwise at street level. This option, which starts at 29th Street, doesn't knock it out of the park on any of the four metrics. As mentioned in our "Public Notice" column two weeks ago, might there be a way to have the airport pay for one of the other lines to extend to the airport? An ATP spokesperson said they are open to other funding sources, but that does not factor into any of the options presented to the public.
Option 4 – The Lifted Model
Partial Elevated: 29th to Oltorf and Yellow Jacket
This option runs from 29th Street and would elevate the tracks from around Guadalupe and Eighth Street across the river to east of Auditorium Shores. Then it would split into two lines across the river, with one heading to Oltorf and the other to Yellow Jacket. The elevation would lessen impacts on right-of-way and utilities and create separation from drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians Downtown.
Option 5 – The Roller Coaster
Partial Underground: UT to Yellow Jacket
The shortest of the options employs a mix of underground and aboveground tracks. Like Option 4, it would be aboveground from Guadalupe and roughly Eighth Street across the river to east of Auditorium Shores. However, it would go underground from 20th Street to just south of Eighth Street. According to ATP projections, this option would carry the fewest riders at 20,000 per day – about half of Option 2. It also receives low marks in mobility & customer experience and access to opportunities.