Project Connect offers options for the transit expansion
By Austin Sanders, 11:50AM, Tue. Apr. 26, 2022
An illustration of one of the bridge options. This view is from the north shore of the lake, looking north toward Trinity Street.
When Project Connect’s Blue Line begins operation sometime around 2029, passengers heading south on the rail line toward East Riverside and the airport will enter a subway Downtown near Republic Square Park and emerge onto a bridge crossing Lady Bird Lake, before hitting the proposed Waterfront station near the old Statesman building.
But should Capital Metro buses be able to cross over the same bridge? That’s the question facing Project Connect planners and the community groups helping to guide work around the multi-billion dollar expansion of Austin’s transit system. At a planning workshop tonight, April 26, Project Connect staff will present a rough estimate showing that allowing buses and light rail to use the Blue Line Bridge could add an additional $60 million to the already-ballooning price tag for Project Connect.
The Blue Line is one of two light rail lines to be built out as part of Project Connect’s very large first phase. It will run for 8.2 miles, beginning at Republic Square where it connects to the north-south Orange Line that will run along Lamar, Guadalupe and South Congress. To avoid Downtown traffic congestion, both lines will be carried underground beneath the urban core.
Early estimates show that a Blue Line bridge with a separate deck for buses (entering at Trinity Street) could cost $210 million, as opposed to $150 million for the rail bridge alone. Both preliminary estimates include shared-use bike and pedestrian paths along the bridge.
The additional $60 million is only a small part of the roughly 40% in cost increases Project Connect has already incurred due to design changes (like the need to extend the subway to avoid conflicting with Capital View Corridors) and market pressures (the increasing cost of land, labor, and materials). Raising the tax rate earmarked for Project Connect by voters in 2020 would require another election, so the timeline is instead likely to be extended.
A debate over buses on the bridge has been quietly raging among Austin’s most plugged-in Project Connect observers, but with cost figures and renderings showing what either option could look like, the Austin Transit Partnership and CapMetro are ready to ask the wider public what they think. Planners will hold a community engagement session over Zoom tonight, April 26, at 5:30pm to solicit feedback on the two design proposals.
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