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Austin Light Rail: A New Proposal for 2016

Urban Rail for Central Austin

The Central Austin CDC is committed to seeing that the transportation needs of the most densely populated, most transit-dependent, and jobs-dense area of our region are addressed. We believe a first high capacity transit investment must maximize ridership and work as the core component of an integrated, regionally significant transportation solution.

Over the decades, the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor has been studied several times for light rail, and at great public (mostly federal) expense. With the exception of Project Connect, all studies have arrived at the singular conclusion that Guadalupe-North Lamar would be a cost-effective first investment.

A 5.3-mile Guadalupe-North Lamar light rail minimum operable segment (MOS) has been proposed. It would serve as a starter line for a phased, 24.9 mile citywide light rail system that would serve all 10 City Council districts. The MOS runs from Crestview Station to Republic Square. The updated ridership estimate for the MOS is 34,000 weekday boardings and is based on a model developed with the support of the FTA. The 2000 plan used the same Guadalupe-North Lamar footprint in our proposal, plus track to McNeil Drive. Rail service to McNeil is in place today in the form of Capital Metro's Red Line. The ridership numbers on a 14.6 mile Phase One from Rundberg to Dove Springs, which incorporates Guadalupe-North Lamar MOS, were found to be very large using the same model, 60,000 weekday. Phase Two extensions of South Lamar to Oak Hill and the Bergstrom Spur to AIBA have yet to be examined for ridership.

The shorter Guadalupe-North Lamar MOS starter line would offer Red Line passengers a connection at Crestview Station, and to the 184,000 jobs the new light rail segment would serve. It would offer that connection not only to McNeil, but to all 32 miles of Red Line, including several inbound stations into East Austin. Bifurcation of the Red Line at Crestivew would draw local trips from East Austin, now numbering very few.

Key Findings: 2016 Central Austin CDC Guadalupe-N Lamar Minimum Operable Segment

For capital cost estimating, an order of magnitude study was conducted looking at FTA data of the actual costs of building light rail starter lines all over the country. The average was $68.31 million per mile and established at the year of expenditure 2016. $75 million per mile was used to create the $397.5 million estimate. Since this estimate was based on actual costs of real projects, no contingency was provided.

We propose the MOS be built with 100% local funds, but under the federal New Starts process with an FTA letter of no prejudice, to enable a fast construction and future leveraging on the next extensions. Leveraging of local funds will enable the $397.5M spent on the MOS to be applied toward future FTA New Starts matching grants to build extensions. The redirection of the Hotel Occupancy Tax could be be used to build extensions to the Austin Bergstrom International Airport along the East Riverside, South Pleasant Valley, and the Bergstrom Spur. This may someday help tourists and residents alike get to and from the airport, while serving the day-to-day needs of Southeast Austin.

In sum, the 5.3-mile Guadalupe-North Lamar minimum operable segment would serve as a cost effective starter line for a future light rail system. It would provide direct service to the jobs and communities around Crestview Station, DPS Headquarters, State Health Department complex, University of Texas, State Capitol Complex, Travis County Courthouse and Central Campus, and downtown’s Republic Square, the city’s busiest bus stop and transfer station. It would also connect to East Austin, North Austin and Northwest Austin by a transfer from the existing 32-mile long Red Line commuter rail line at Crestview Station.

Phased Citywide Light Rail System Plan with the Guadalupe-North Lamar Minimum Operable Segment

Austin Light Rail Map


Reports and Studies

Light Rail Polling

Austin Light Rail Survey of Likely Voters for the November 2016 Election

2015 Zandan Voices of the Community Poll


FTA Average Unit Cost Per Element for a Group of Projects for the Guadalupe-Lamar Light Rail Minimum Operable Segment


Average Weekday Ridership for the Guadalupe-Lamar Light Rail Minimum Operable Segment

Draft Ordinance with Ballot Language

Proposition Two for Light Rail

Press Releases

Response to Assertions Made on Light Rail Cost Estimate August 11, 2016

Call to Action: The Future of Austin Transportation May be Determined Thursday August 10, 2016

Sometimes the Highest Form of Leadership is the Ability to Listen - Council to Consider Mobility Bond Thursday August 8, 2016

New Polling Shows Light Rail on Guadalupe-N Lamar Would Win on the November Ballot August 2, 2016

Joint Sustainability Committee Asks for Light Rail on the November Ballot July 27, 2016

Going Bigger: Adding the Option of a $400 Million Light Rail Line in the November Bond Election July 12, 2016

Prepared Statement Supporting a Light Rail Minimum Operable Segment (MOS) on the November Ballot June 14, 2016

Light Rail Progress Since the November 2014 Election June 7, 2016

Light Rail Project Defined for November 2016 Ballot May 12, 2016

Urban Transportation Commission Asks Austin City Council to Consider Placing Light Rail, High Capacity Transit on the November 2016 Ballot February 10, 2016




Overview and History

Over the last 5 years, The Central Austin CDC has organized a diverse coalition of communities, non-profit groups, and light rail advocates. Their backgrounds include social media, public policy, non-profit management, engineering, environmental policy, urban planning, neighborhood and business leadership, and established rail advocacy from other campaigns. A consensus of this grassroots process is a vision for a system anchored by a north-south, regionally significant, expandable backbone of light rail service in the Guadalupe-North Lamar Corridor.

Light Rail 2013-2014: What was Project Connect's role?

Project Connect is a broad, multi-agency regional planning initiative under the aegis of the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and pursuant to an interlocal agreement that was created in April 2013 between the City of Austin, Capital Metro, and Lone Star Rail District to study Central Corridor High Capacity Transit. Kyle Keahey of the firm HNTB was hired as the urban rail planning lead. This process was portrayed as fresh look; and the public was assured that all options and all alignments were on the table. Ten areas, or sub-corridors, of the city were defined and were under evaluation, including both Lamar and Mueller. On November 15, 2013, Mr. Keahey's group narrowed the choice of sub-corridors to Highland and East Riverside. The mode was also arbitrarily rebranded from "light rail" to "urban rail", terminology that is not typically used in the transit industry, or the FTA, to define a mode.

During the Project Connect process between 2013 and 2014, organizations serving over 100,000 Austinites formally endorsed a Guadalupe North Lamar Corridor light rail alignment. The people also made their preference known in several community meetings, workshop, poll or survey that was taken in that process. Guadalupe North-Lamar was the people's choice.

Project Connect Workshops

On December 12, 2013, the Austin City Council advanced the Highland and East Riverside sub-corridors into phase 2 of the Project Connect Central Corridor Study. The action preempted further alignment-specific studies of Lamar or the the other 8 sub-corridors. Many citizens believe that there was a strong political bias introduced in the process and that more suitable and compelling alternatives had been overlooked.

In phase 2 of the study on February 21, 2014, Project Connect planners eliminated a light rail connection to the Seaholm Center in their final alignment recommendation. This change would break a fundamental prerequisite of the planning process to create a connected system. It diverged from the regional planning approach, and all but ensured that the western alignment through the core, needed to serve the Guadalupe-N Lamar corridor, would never be realized. It contradicted several past studies, Capital Metro policy, and prior council action. The 4th Street Rail corridor remains on the books as the official connection to Seaholm, a designation in the AMATP component of the comprehensive plan, with a sound technical basis to support it.

Project Connect continued to remove future service capacity to Guadalupe, West Campus, and the western half of downtown with the introduction of its plan for future connectivity to its Highland-East Riverside Project Connect Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) on May 16, 2014.

The Austin City Council voted to limit public testimony and approved the LPA on June 26, 2014. A few weeks later, council bundled the rail with a prerequisite package of $400 million in bond debt for highway projects creating Austin Proposition 1 on August 7, 2014. The ballot wording required that all the highway projects needed be appropriated before the rail project funds could be drawn on.

On November 4, 2014, Austin Proposition 1 was defeated by a 57% to 43% vote.

The Lamar Amendments

The need for future rail on Guadalupe-North Lamar was expressed in Council Member Chris Riley's December 12, 2013 amendments to the sub-corridor selection. They directed City Manager Marc Ott to plan for high capacity transit within the Lamar and other sub-corridors and to make a recommendation by August 1, 2014. The intent of those council-approved amendments has not been carried forward to date.


Guadalupe-North Lamar Light Rail and Neighborhood Plans Adopted into the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan

The Guadalupe-North Lamar vision has been adopted by prior council action in three large combined neighborhood plan ordinances and in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan with its HIGH CAPACITY TRANSIT CORRIDOR DESIGNATION. After the referendum loss in 2000, neighborhoods were asked to accept density in their plans, contingent on rail infrastructure that never materialized. Between 2000 and 2003, area residents and 15 neighborhood associations participated in station-level light rail planning along Guadalupe-North Lamar. Upzoning agreements were made between the city and the area's residents contingent on this new density having rail service. Over $20 million in FTA funds have been spent preparing this corridor for rail over the years.



Over the years, prioritization of light rail for the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor has been endorsed by both City Council and the Capital Metro board. This alignment has been incorporated into numerous citizen-drawn neighborhood plans and made into law by that same process. During the same period, the Federal Transit Administration gave the City of Austin and Capital Metro millions of dollars, at the request of those agencies, to plan light rail along the Guadalupe-North Lamar corridor.

The most advanced and detailed period of FTA planning came in the years immediately after the narrowly defeated 2000 rail referendum. It was called the "Rapid Transit Project" and occurred between 2001 and 2004 under CAMPO's Rapid Transit Plan and Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP). It defined the Guadalupe-North Lamar alignment as "The Central Line". That line was a joint planning effort between Capital Metro, The City of Austin, and several communities along the Guadalupe-North Lamar alignment. An unprecedented level of public involvement engaged citizens with route-level and station-level planning. The people's input drove changes in the recommendations and these details were incorporated into AMATP system planning and neighborhood plans.

Following the emergence of the Mueller redevelopment in 2004, all planning for light rail on Guadalupe-North Lamar ceased, and plan documents related to the Rapid Transit Project were removed from the public web sites.

Fortunately, the value of that planning and community support survived. It was memorialized in public law by neighborhood plans developed during that period. Shaped and supported by the people, political support for rail planning on Guadalupe and North Lamar is captured in the public record in a high level of detail. This record is particularly extensive for the Brentwood/Highland Combined, Central Austin Combined, and the Crestview Wooten Combined Neighborhood Plan. The following neighborhood planning ordinances call for building urban rail on the Guadalupe-North Lamar alignment. No process has reversed or superceded the recommendations contained in those ordinances.

Brentwood Highland Combined Neighborhood Plan
City of Austin Ordinance 040513-30
Neighborhoods: Brentwood, Highland, Skyview
2010 Population: 11,738
Light rail plan excerpts here
page 51 Plan addresses future light rail on both North Lamar Blvd. and Airport Blvd., anticipating their convergence at Crestview station.
page 93 Plan incorporates by reference CAMPO's Rapid Transit Plan and Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP) that calls for 52 miles of passenger rail in Austin which includes urban rail on Guadalupe and North Lamar streets.
pages 98 - 120 Extensive rail planning for specific alignment and station placement referred to as the "Central Line" of the "Rapid Transit Project". 4 light rail stations were recommend at Anderson Ln., Airport Blvd, Koenig Ln, and 46th (Triangle) were recommended.

Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan
City of Austin Ordinance 040826-56
Neighborhoods: West University, University Area Partners, Shoal Crest, Heritage, North University, Hancock, Eastwoods.
2010 Population: 25,861
Light rail plan excerpts here
pages 11, 50 Transit Planning Station Workshop on June 24, 2003 outcome was the planning of stations on Guadalupe Street.
pages 186 - 207 Appendix D Detailed station and alignment planning including the placement of a station at Nueces and Guadalupe Streets and 38 1/2 and Guadalupe Streets.

Crestview Wooten Combined Neighborhood Plan
City of Austin Ordinance 20040401-Z002
Neighborhoods: Crestview, Wooten
2010 Population: 9,266
Light rail plan excerpts here
page 62 Plan incorporates by reference CAMPO's Rapid Transit Plan and Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP) that calls for 52 miles of passenger rail in Austin which includes urban rail on Guadalupe and North Lamar streets.
Pages 64-78 Station and alignment planning including 2 LRT station plans, one for Anderson Lane and North Lamar and one for Airport and North Lamar. Workshop conducted July 8, 2003.

Representatives from the Hyde Park and North Loop neighborhoods participated in station design workshops related to the Rapid Transit Project between November 2001 and July 2003. Their work is reflected both in the system documents, with an emphasis in the planning for Guadalupe and 38th Street and Guadalupe and 46th Street stations. Light rail on Guadalupe and North Lamar is also affirmed in those plans.

Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan
City of Austin Ordinance 000413-63
Neighborhoods: Hyde Park, Hyde Park North Annex
2010 Population: 5,894
Light rail plan excerpts here
page 35 Goal 3 of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan calls for light rail planning support on Guadalupe Street to enhance existing pedestrian, businesses and residential uses.
pages 39-41 Goal 5 of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan calls for a corridor plan for Guadalupe Street that includes light rail.

North Loop Neighborhood Plan
City of Austin Ordinance 020523-30
Neighborhoods: Northfield, Ridgetop
2010 Population: 5,072
Light rail plan excerpts here
pages 5, 13-14, 29, 59 Planning land use in the anticipation of light rail on Lamar Blvd. and in general locations not related to future Red Line location.


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