May 29, 2012
Key Details of Urban Rail Proposal Presented to Council
Austin City Council heard from city staff on May 22 and again on May 29, how Urban Rail fits into the regional transit picture and could be operational by 2021, or sooner.
Council members learned the first phase – stretching from Mueller, through the University of Texas campus and Capitol Complex, and to the Convention Center – would cost $275 million to or less local taxpayers, with a federal matching investment.
Assistant City Manager Robert Goode, joined by national transportation policy and financial experts, stressed that the data presented is conservative and that the line could become operational sooner and at a lower cost.
More than two thirds of the first phase will have the opportunity for transit priority lanes, while the remaining parts – such as the university segment – will have low traffic levels that would not interfere with rail.
The proposed line is recommended to be funded through a combination of federal and local funds. A portion of the local share could come from general obligation bonds.
The city projection between 9,000 and11,000 daily one-way trips for in opening year 2021, and is in process of finalizing its official federally-required ridership forecast.
Goode said that the amount needed from city obligated bonds could ultimately decrease, but in order to be attractive to the federal government as an investment partner, the city should secure the full funding up-front and afterwards work to reduce the city obligation with various partners.
Transportation policy expert Jeff Boothe told City Council that Austin would be competitive for federal funds, when compared to other cities, because the first phase – serving downtown, the Capitol, and University of Texas – would generate ridership on day one.
An Urban Rail first phase would also offer two connections to the currently operating MetroRail Red Line, in addition to connection to planned high-quality MetroRapid buses operating in the North Lamar/South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar corridors.
Urban Rail could again be discussed by City Council on June 26, when council members will discuss recommendations for projects to be included in a November 2012 bond election.
Urban Rail is also a regular topic of discussion at the mayor-chaired Transit Working Group, which are public meetings that include citizen comments.