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De-railing how to get places

by Julia Robertson

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Senior Owen Summers says he is no beginner when it comes to riding public transportation. The bus was his main method of transportation freshman year.

“It would extend my commute home by 45 minutes, which was never fun,” Summers said.

With the upcoming propositions on building a light rail system in Austin, there could be more ways to get around Austin without using a car. There is a possibility for a new Light Rail system which would be a track that would run throughout parts of downtown Austin, as well as a new route for a system called Metro Rapid that is an advanced bus system that runs a faster bus route. These would accompany the current Metro Rail, which runs primarily on train tracks without going onto individual streets in Austin.

Austinites will vote on the bond in November.

“I would definitely consider using it to get to school,” Summers said.

The proposed urban rail line is scheduled to be 9.5 miles in length and would connect the Riverside corridor across Lady Bird Lake to downtown, the Capitol Complex and the University of Texas, and extend north of the Hancock Center and Highland Mall area. Potential expansions are possible in the future, according to Kyle Keahey, the vice president of HNTB Corporation, a firm providing architecture engineering, planning and constructive services.

All the proposed stops for the Urban Rail, are just temporary and are subject to change. At several points there are transition points when the car would transfer onto different roads and tracks branching off into different parts of the city.

A common misconception is that this is an extension of the Metro Rail, but the proposal is for the Urban Rail. The Metro Rail primarily runs on the current train tracks while the Urban Rail is essentially a streetcar.

The rail project that is included in the 2014 Bond Program is not an “extension on the Metro Rail in Austin.” The existing Metro Rail and the proposed Urban Rail are two very different rail services. Metro Rail is a diesel-powered, commuter service that arrives every 15-20 minutes maximum, with service six days a week. The proposed urban rail is an electric- powered transit service that operates on a dedicated guide way in the street as opposed to a separated train tracks like the Metro Rail.

The Urban Rail would work 20 plus hours a day, seven days a week, rather than just six that the Metro Rail currently offers. It would also be faster at a rate of service of every 10-15 minutes.

Urban Rail is one of the talking points in the city council election. McCallum is located in District 7 where eight new members are running to represent the district. Jeb Boyt, candidate for a District 7 seat, says he is for an urban rail.

“Through my work with the Alliance for Public Transportation, I have actively taken part in the development of the current urban rail proposal and all the prior discussions for more than a decade,” Boyt said. “We need high-capacity transit. We need transit that will support land uses consistent with the vision of a compact and connected city set forth in the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan.”

This bond has qualified for federal funding for half of its construction costs. The Riverside portion of the proposed route scored at the top of all the technical reviews and public comments.

With 110 people moving to Austin per day, the current roads simply will not hold up, according to the Project Connect website.

Urban Rail isn’t the only thing that could be zipping around Austin. Metro Rapid “803”, a high capacity bus system, is going to be put in place later this fall.

Metro-Rapid is a bus system that is more technology advanced. The “Onboard Signal Technology” holds traffic lights green a little bit longer when a vehicle is running behind schedule.

The Metro Rapid and Metro Rail both have amenities such as free-Wi-Fi and quiet, comfortable spaces to sit. The current Metro Rail goes from Leander down to central Austin.

“While there are some clear benefits to looking at Guadalupe/Lamar for a potential route, there are also major challenges,” Boyt said, “such as the existing congestion on the route, how to add rail into the existing right-of-way from MLK to 35th Street without taking away half of the road capacity, the difficulty and cost of crossing the Metro Rail at Lamar and Airport and where the end of point of the route should be. The Highland route offers a superior connection to the Metro Rail.”

The Highland route up for vote could be useful for McCallum students. It could run close to the school so students could easily get to school and not have to worry about traffic. Since it is on a tight schedule, it will get to stops quicker and at more precise times.

Project Connect has more in store for the future if the first bond goes through. According to website maps and diagrams, the future expansions extend all the way south to San Antonio and as far north as Georgetown, Pflugerville and Leander. The Regional Rail may eventually extend farther to service more people.

Even if approved, work wouldn’t start right away, Keahey said. “If the bond referendum passes this November, the project will be advanced into a two to three year long period where preliminary engineering and an environmental impact statement will be prepared,” Keahey said, “and conversations with the public about specific matters such as station locations and environmental impacts. The projects anticipated opening date is late 2021 or early 2022, and will be refined as the project design is progressed.”

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De-railing how to get places