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North Lamar-Guadalupe-South Congress light rail plan seems back on the table

28 February 2018

Project Connect’s latest draft system plan envisions multiple bus and rail routes, including the long, linear north-south light rail line (shown in purple north of the river and lavender to the south) stretching from Tech Ridge to Slaughter. Map: Project Connect.

The stream of Twitter posts on Feb. 12th from Steven Knapp, attending a meeting of the Multimodal Community Advisory Committee (MCAC), came like a bombshell – forwarding snapshots of an apparent conceptual proposal, by Capital Metro’s Project Connect planning body, for a light rail line not merely in the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor, but stretching all the way from Tech Ridge in North Austin, southward down North Lamar, and Guadalupe, through the Core Area, and on down South Congress to the Southpark Meadows area in far South Austin.

The route, originally proposed by local transportation activist Dave Dobbs in 2014, incorporates sections initially proposed by transportation planner and local activist Lyndon Henry in 1989, plus the portion of Capital Metro’s 2000 plan taking light rail transit (LRT) from the Crestview area (N. Lamar/Airport Blvd.) as far south as the Ben White freeway. Dave’s extensions north to Tech Ridge and south to Southpark Meadows have created a highly plausible north-south linear alignment, offering a central alternative to both I-35 and the MoPac (Loop 1) freeway, that has caught the public’s imagination and attention.


Initial phase of LRT project would run from Tech Ridge to downtown at Republic Square, mainly following the North Lamar-Guadalupe travel/development corridor. Map: Project Connect.


While Capital Metro insists that the idea at this stage is just “a draft for internal review”, LRT in the city’s most important central corridor – North Lamar-Guadalupe – plus South Austin’s most venerable central corridor – South Congress Avenue – does seem to be garnering particularly serious interest. According to Project Connect’s Feb. 12th MCAC presentation,

The North Lamar/Guadalupe Corridor has been one of the most critical transportation arteries in Austin for over a century. Phase 2 of Project Connect considered the 12 miles of the corridor stretching from Tech Ridge in North Austin to Republic Square in Downtown. The corridor connects many of Austin’s most important destinations, including Downtown, the State Capitol, University of Texas, and several major state agency offices between 38th and Crestview.

A graphic emphasizes this corridor’s potential even more:


Table shows demographic and other data bolstering potential of LRT in Guadalupe-Lamar corridor. Graphic: Project Connect.


It should be noted that these improved prospects for Guadalupe-Lamar LRT come into ascendancy just as the alternative scheme for an I-35 “Super BRT” – buses running in future toll lanes in the Interstate highway – have been placed “on hold”. (See «Why TxDOT-Capital Metro “BRT” plan for I-35 is a massive boondoggle».) Reportedly, toll-based highways are being rejected by top Texas officials, particularly in light of prohibitions by Texas voters against using relatively new road revenue streams to finance them.

Yet even if LRT is suddenly, truly on the official table, moving forward with an an actual project is not without challenges. First, Project Connect’s planning methodology is still encumbered with unfortunate flaws, a few of them somewhat similar to several within the 2013 planning process. These include dubious and implausibly rigid “corridor” criteria, as well as questionable evaluation criteria. (See «The fraudulent “study” behind the misguided Highland-Riverside urban rail plan».)

But by far the biggest challenge will be how to pay for such an ambitious plan, especially in view of the Trump administration’s evidently skeptical and parsimonious attitude toward public transport funding. But there’s a saying worth keeping in mind: “Who wills the end, wills the means.” Austin could, like Houston, rely on local bonds to fund its own LRT starter line project – if it’s designed (and kept) sufficiently modest and affordable. And some level of federal funding is not necessarily totally out of the question.

In any case, Project Connect appears at least to have taken an official step toward putting LRT back on a sound path for planning and, hopefully, implementation. And that may signal real progress. ■

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3 comments

  1. How do you quantify this plan having “caught the public’s imagination and attention”?

    State government is moving ALL it’s Austin area employees (5000+) to the Capital Complex, I would prefer the downtown portion of the route go closer to the state office buildings downtown. But perhaps that would be too close the 2014 plan for you “Lamar Rail Now” folks


  2. Multimodal Community Advisory Committee (MCAC) got it right using their new word SORRIDOR in the post above. Because the concept is not a plan, and SORRIDOR accurately describes that this idea is a SORRY rehash of old ideas hoisted by the rail-only proponents which voters have repeatedly said they don’t want. Why? because it’s too costly, inflexible, inefficient, unsustainable, not customer serving waste of taxpayer $. The Commuter Rail which opponents allowed to pass so rallies could have their experience and citizens could learn first hand not to vote yes again for the reasons just listed. CR went way over voter promise on original cost and is hugely over promise on operating cost, Taxpayer subsidy for CR is over $24 per rider trip vs. $3 for bus. Austin can give people closer to the personal vehicle’s “from anywhere to anywhere anytime” experience by looking objectively at how to do that with transit. One citizen, Richard Shultz studied transit systems for 25 years as a hobby.
    He took the best practices he saw and devised what he calls Cellular Mass Transit. He has lots of information at CMT4Austin.org
    CMT uses existing bus and rail, adds 8-16 passenge vans and transit center locations serving roughly 10 square mile areas.
    Smaller vans pick up people by route or demand application, deliver them to their in-cell destination or to a transit hub for on demand rapid bus (or scheduled rail) to the next transit hub where a demand based van takes them to their destination.
    Simple in concept, More quickly doable by adding buses and designating area hubs of activity as transit centers, CMT can double ridership, reduce subsidy, reach everyone with more efficient service, providing a flexible, sustainable transit for the good of the entire community. Collaborate with Richard and bring a real solution to life.


  3. Multimodal Community Advisory Committee (MCAC) got it right using their new word SORRIDOR in the post above ( The sorridor connects many of Austin’s most important destinations ). Because the concept is not a plan, and SORRIDOR accurately describes that this idea is a SORRY rehash of old ideas hoisted by the rail-only proponents which voters have repeatedly said they don’t want. Why? because it’s a too costly, inflexible, inefficient, unsustainable, not customer serving waste of taxpayer $.
    The Commuter Rail which opponents allowed to pass so railies could have their experience and citizens could learn first hand not to vote yes again for the reasons just listed. CR went way over voter promise on original cost and is hugely over promise on operating cost. Taxpayer subsidy for CR is over $24 per rider trip vs. $3 for bus.
    Austin can give people closer to the personal vehicle’s “from anywhere to anywhere anytime” experience by looking objectively at how to do that with transit.
    One citizen, Richard Shultz studied transit systems for 25 years as a hobby.
    He took the best practices he saw and devised what he calls Cellular Mass Transit. He has lots of information at CMT4Austin.org
    CMT uses existing bus and rail, adds 8-16 passenger vans and transit center locations serving roughly 10 square mile areas.
    Smaller vans pick up people by route or demand application, deliver them to their in-cell destination or to a transit hub for on demand rapid bus (or scheduled rail) to the next transit hub where a demand based van takes them to their destination.
    Simple in concept, more quickly doable by adding buses and designating area hubs of activity as transit centers, CMT can double ridership, reduce subsidy, reach everyone with more efficient service, providing a flexible, sustainable transit for the good of the entire community.
    Collaborate with Richard and bring a real solution to life.



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