Phase One of Project Connect; Light Rail Coming to Austin

Written by Jennifer McLawhorn, Managing Editor
image description
Map of Project Connect to bring light rail to Austin
Courtesy of Project Connect

AUSTIN, Texas – Light rail is coming to the city of Austin as the first phase of Project Connect is underway.

According to CBS Austin, the first phase of Project Connect is underway, and a light rail will be coming to the city. The project design includes “almost 10 miles of new light rail with 15 stations from 38th Street through Downtown Austin and partway to the airport.”

This past Monday, the city gave an update on the project. The project’s “engineering and architectural work is underway on the 10-mile system that includes getting public input on the design of street-level stations that will not look like the existing MetroRail stations.” The total cost of the project is estimated to be $5 billion with half of the funding coming from federal grants. It is reported that it will take around 2.5 years for the funding to become available before construction can begin. 

Executive Director of the Austin Transit Partnership, Greg Canally, told CBS Austin that once it receives “funding, we’re looking at about four to five years of construction before the first Austin light rail is up and running.” Canally also commented that Austin Transit Partnership wants the community’s input during this initial design process. 

Notably, there is difference between the light rail design and the rail that is already in place in Austin. CBS Austin reports that “Austin’s MetroRail is commuter rail. The track is heavier, the trains move faster, and they make fewer stops.” On the other hand, “Light rail will be street-level, the trains will move slower, and they will stop and pick up passengers more frequently.”

Additionally, the city of Austin is working to change housing policies in order to allow more people to live along rail lines. The Mayor of Austin, Kirk Watson, commented that a successful rail system relies on “more density and more housing than we currently have.” Currently, a capital review team is assessing the design to allow for a more efficient permit process. 

Interim Austin Assistant City Manager for Mobility and Water, Robert Goode, stated that permitting “is one of the risks that we’ve identified as something that could really damage this project so we need to find ways to make sure we move through our own city processes as efficiently as we can.”

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