Cost Details Emerge for Proposed Project Connect Route

April 10, 2014 by Kate Harrington

November’s vote on a transportation bond that could provide Austin with a comprehensive transit system is drawing closer, and final details are emerging.

Project Connect’s first Central Austin route will take it from the Highland Mall area through downtown, and over Lady Bird Lake to run along the East Riverside Corridor. There are three possible ways for the system, whether it’s rail or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), to make that river crossing.

Building a new rail bridge over the river would cost about $175 million for rail, and roughly $122 million for a BRT bridge. A second option, to build a tunnel that would start just south of the lake and emerge at 4th and Trinity Streets, would cost about $245 million for rail, or $184 million for a BRT tunnel. And the third option, for a longer tunnel that would include underground stations at East 4th and 12th Streets would come above ground at 15th Street. That option would cost about $475 million for rail, and possibly 15 percent less than that for a BRT system. Both tunnel options are considerably more expensive than building a new bridge, but would avoid traffic conflicts with vehicles.

The Project Connect team will make a final mass transit recommendation to City Council on April 11, and will unveil that plan to the public on April 12.

Meanwhile, groups on both sides of the issue are gearing up to win hearts and minds in the run up to the bond vote.

The Austin Chronicle reports that so far two groups have formed to support the bond, as well as one that opposes the current plan to run the system on the Highland sub-corridor. That third political action committee, Our Rail, wants to see a ballot measure that would bring a light rail alignment to the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor.

What are your thoughts on these emerging details? Leave your comments below.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.