Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Lone Star Rail gains steam; Urban Rail switches tracks

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TWC News: Lone Star Rail gains steam; Urban Rail switches tracks
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A commuter train from San Antonio to Georgetown--called Lone Star Rail---was approved by Austin City Council Thursday.

Council approved a plan to create special zones near nine train stations in the city limits. Half of increased property tax revenue in those areas will help fund the rail. The idea is to avoid asking voters to support Lone Star Rail through all property taxes.

While the Lone Star Rail is gaining steam, the Austin City Council is switching tracks on their plans for Urban Rail.

Some Urban Rail supporters thought East Austin's Mueller development made sense for the first phase of the project, but that's now off the table. So is the Lamar Boulevard corridor, which has the highest transit ridership.

Julie Montgomery with advocacy group Urban Rail Action does not live near any of the planned routes, but wants to see more rail in Austin. Transit planners say they want to wait until at least 2021 to consider urban rail for the Lamar Boulevard corridor.

MetroRapid will start service in that area next month.

"They are going to risk losing a large chunk of the most fervent pro-transit grassroots support in Austin,” Montgomery said. "I think waiting another eight years to talk about doing major improvements is too long to wait."

While Lamar has the highest demand now, transit expert Kyle Keahey with Project Connect says parts of southeast Austin and Central Austin show the most potential.

While Keahey says they now have a good idea where they want to go with the first phase, it’s still unclear what the rail cars would look like.

"One of the key things we will be looking at is how much demand is there,” Keahey said. “That will allow us to size the investment."

Voters shot down urban rail in 2000. Council Member Mike Martinez warns if it happens again next year, it could be a lot more than 14 years before it comes before voters again, if at all.

Council plans to revisit urban rail plans in the spring. Voters would then decide on a bond package to pay for it next November.

You can find the latest maps and studies on Central Texas transit at ProjectConnect.com.

Summary image courtesy Project Connect.

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