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Austin looks to expand mass transit by adding urban rail

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Transportation is the biggest challenge facing the Austin area according to Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and many Central Texans likely agree.


MetroRail has been pretty successful, but with one route it's pretty limited, and once riders get downtown, how do they get around? That's what transportation officials are working on.

Cap Metro's MetroRail has provided an alternative form of transportation for some residents in Central Texas, but it's just one piece of the puzzle that makes up the high-capacity transit vision for the Austin area.

"It includes several different kinds of mass transit: rapid buses, express lanes, commuter rail, urban rail," Leffingwell said.

That vision has been named Project Connect a video on lays out scenarios of how mass transit in Central Texas may be used one day.

Friday, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and transportation leaders unveiled initial transit plans for the Central Corridor portion of project connect.

"The only criteria that I have right now is that we tie together the three dense population nodes in downtown and that's the University of Texas, the capitol complex and downtown Austin," Leffingwell said.

How exactly those locations will be connected is still being discussed, but Urban Rail will be a key component.

A diagram shows urban rail lines running through UT, to the Mueller development and to downtown. A future phase may include a line to ABIA but that's all to be determined.

"I know a lot of people have talked about various routes that are out there being discussed, but we have not made that decision yet," Leffingwell said.

Mayor Leffingwell says an exact route for Phase 1 of urban rail will be figured out before a possible November 2014 bond election. He estimates voters will be asked to approve $200-300 million for the project and that it could be finished by 2020 at the earliest.

It's a big project, but one that city leaders say has to happen as the Central Texas population continues to grow.

"We will have a very transit rich, transit friendly environment in the downtown area for not just metro rapid, but urban rail and how it connects to commuter rail line. We're going to make sure that everything we put together, everything we implement works together as one seamless system," Capital Metro President and CEO Linda Watson said.

There will be a number of public meetings over the next year to get input on Urban Rail.

Another project that is being worked on is Lonestar rail that line will run from Georgetown, through Austin and down to San Antonio.

The goal is to have Phase 1 of that project finished around the same time Phase 1 of Urban Rail is complete.

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