Austin Headlines: Urban Rail Plan Taking Shape (again)

Source: City of Austin.

Source: City of Austin.

Austin’s urban rail unveiled: Highland Mall to East Riverside DriveAustin American-Statesman

Ben Wear – Officials proposed a nine-mile route that would run from the emerging Austin Community College campus at Highland Mall through the University of Texas, downtown and along East Riverside Drive to Grove Boulevard. The proposal is expected to take final form this summer, where the Austin City Council will decide by August whether to put a bond proposal on the November ballot.

At the moment, there are a host of unknowns: the cost of construction; annual operating costs and what entity or entities would cover those costs; who will run the line; where the train would have its own dedicated corridor; and where stations would be located. A huge question mark is how and when the line will cross Lady Bird Lake. The final recommendation that will be put to the City Council, along with details about stations, train technology, financing and governance of the line, is expected emerge by April.

South Austin’s beleaguered Violet Crown Trail moves ahead despite setbacks – Community Impact

The proposed Violet Crown Trail is a 30-mile network of trails from Zilker Park to south of FM 967 in Hays County. So far, the trail’s first phase — 5 miles of walkways in Zilker Park — has been built. Attention is now focusing on the second phase of the trail, a 7-mile segment that will link Sunset Valley to the Veloway, a popular closed cycling and skating loop, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Construction is expected to get underway by early summer. For more information, see here.

Austin City Council Votes to Lower Occupancy Limits – KUT News

Council took the issue of so-called  “stealth dorms” to task, passing a resolution to lower the number of unrelated adults allowed to live in a single-family home from six to four. Some argue these living arrangements provide affordability for Austinites because of the rising price of Austin real estate, while others say they lead to parking and trash problems that disrupt neighborhoods and lower property values.

‘Streets’

  • Bicycle Bridge Project Begins on Mopac in South Austin – TxDOT
  • Permanent food trailer court to open at 1-acre Barton Springs Road site – The Daily Texan

Bicycling

  • Twice as many people as anticipated have used Austin B-cycle in it’s first two months – Austin Post

Transit

  • Is Capital Metro’s new MetroRapid service leaving bus riders behind? KUT News
  • Capital Metro plans to remove nearly all buses from Congress Avenue – Austin Business Journal
  • Rail or fail: Austin mayor touts urban rail in final State of the City address – Community Impact

Roads/Parking

  • Heading for the hills? West Lake has a vintage bottleneck – Austin American-Statesman
  • Transportation planners could add lanes to Highway 183 in Northwest Austin – KVUE
  • TxDOT proposes closing Woodland access to I-35 to ease congestion – Austin Post

Development projects

Green spaces/Leisure

Around Texas

  • Judge Strikes Down New Braunfels’ River ‘Can Ban’ – KUT News
  • With three new companies, Temple sees fruits of energy boom – Austin Business Journal
  • At DFW, a DART Orange Line connection to downtown Dallas mere months away – Dallas News Transportation Blog
  • TxDOT to Dallas: Elevated highway separating Deep Ellum from downtown will remain for the foreseeable future – Planetizen
  • Turning Urban Blight into Urban Amenity: Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Promenade – Metropolis

Regional Matters

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How Will Luxury Hotels Change Downtown Austin?

Two new luxury hotels are coming to Downtown Austin. The 2,000+ hotel rooms that will come online by 2015 are good news for SXSW revelers, the convention economy and are of uncertain value to nearly everyone else.

The Fairmont Austin. Courtesy of Gensler Architects.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell had been pressing for the two convention hotel, along with the existing 800-room Hilton Austin, saying more hotel rooms are needed to make full use of the expanded Austin Convention Center and to help Austin attract more — and bigger — conventions.

The Fairmont Austin
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is expected to break ground on a new, 50-story, 1,000-room luxury hotel in early 2013. The $350 million project will be at the site of what is now a surface parking lot located on East Cesar Chavez and Red River Streets near the Austin Convention Center.

The hotel will stand at 50 stories, and at 580 feet tall, it will be the second-tallest building in Austin’s skyline when it opens for business in 2015. (after the 56-story Austonian). Fairmont operates another Texas hotel in Dallas, The Fairmont Dallas, its only other location in the state.

The JW Marriott Austin. Photo courtesy of White Lodging.

JW Marriott Austin
Development on the 33-story, 1,000-room JW Marriott is expected to begin this month. The hotel will be replace an existing parking lot on Congress Avenue and Second Street two blocks from the Austin Convention Center. It’s expected to open in 2015.

What’s next
Will Austin become another soulless convention city?

Developing Austin: 47 Stories and a Planetarium

With Austin primed to enter another boom in downtown high-rise construction, news of a new skyscraper in the works is to be expected. After the non-profit Austin Planetarium and developer KUD International announced plans to build a state-of-the-art 47-story mixed-used development last week that will include the “largest planetarium in Texas,” even the most jaded of Austinites took a pause.

Courtesy HOK.

The $240 million Austin Planetarium project would include a 157,000-square-foot facility located across the street from the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum with a planetarium, an interactive science museum and a technology center, as well as residences, restaurants, retail and 1,000 underground parking spaces. The project is awaiting approval by the Texas Facilities Commission for a ground lease on the property located at North Congress Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which is currently a parking lot. Developers are aiming to break ground in late 2013 or early 2014.

The Planetarium development would be by far the tallest structure north of the Capitol, and at 47 stories would be among the tallest in the city. A possible downside would be increased traffic on Guadalupe on the Drag, which has been at capacity for years.

‘Statesman’ May Sell Lakefront Office Complex in South Austin

The Austin American-Statesman sits on 19 acres of lakefront property in South Austin, but for how much longer?

The Statesman from the Congress St. Bridge

Owner Cox Media Group is apparently open to selling the land after receiving multiple unsolicited offers. The paper itself is not currently for sale, but it’s clear that building is not an efficient use of the space. Occupied by the Statesman since 1980, the drab and boxy building is 300,000 square feet and three stories tall. Located just south of upscale Travis Heights and on Lady Bird Lake, the land has been appraised for $40 million, but possibly much more.

Austin American-Statesman

I presume it’s only a matter of time until a buyer comes forward. I hesitate to speculate further until more information becomes available, but it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of 19 acres opening up for smart development in what’s essentially downtown.

Urban Rail in Austin: City’s Expanded Plan

With a possible vote on the first segment looming in November, the City of Austin has added 10 miles of track to the 16.5-mile, $1.3 billion urban rail system proposal that has long been public. The newest map released by Capital Metro imagines rail lines extending south, west and north of the urban core and Central Business District:

North of the Colorado River, the map shows two westward extensions to MoPac (at 5th St. and 35th. St.), and a extension to the Crestview MetroRail Station in North Central Austin. In South Austin, rail will run down Congress Avenue to Southpark Meadows. Additionally, a line would run east-west on West Riverside Drive past Auditorium Shores. Previous versions have been criticized for being too downtown-centric and for bypassing the vital north-south Lamar/Guadalupe corridor. Here’s what the old map (from 2009):

Proposed Urban Rail System. 2009.

Proposed Urban Rail System. 2009.

According to the new map, the city intends for rail to cross Lake Lady Bird on a new bridge near Waller Creek. Whereas the plan previously considered using the existing Congress Avenue, Austin Transportation’s Department now envisions a “statement bridge” reserved for trains, buses, bikes and pedestrians.

There are several problems with this proposed route that are beyond the scope of the post (e.g., Lamar Boulevard), and the Austin City Council has yet to release a price estimate. That should happen within the month, at which point the proposed routes will need to be examined more closely.

For Austin, Wheels in Motion for Bus Rapid Transit by 2014

It’s been a little over two years since MetroRail debuted as Austin’s urban rail. Following a trend that started in Latin America and has spread throughout the world, Austin says it is preparing to break ground on a high-capacity rapid bus. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is coming to Austin.

Thanks in large part to Department of Transportation grant that will fund 80% of the project, construction of a two-route, $47.6 million rapid-bus system known as MetroRapid will begin this fall. The FTA’s Very Small Starts program will cover some 80 percent $47.6 million total cost.

Capital Metro says MetroRapid can anticipate at least 20,000 daily boardings after the service opens. Plans include two high-capacity, rapid bus lines that would run north-south across the city for a total of 37.5 miles. The North Lamar Boulevard/South Congress Avenue line will run for a total of 21 miles from Tech Ridge Park and Ride to Southpark Meadows. The Burnet/South Lamar Boulevard will total 16 miles and will run from North Austin Medical Center to Westgate Transit Center.


Like other BRT systems, MetroRapid will feature sleek, modern buses that are more efficient and have greater passenger amenities on the bus and at the station that a standard bus. MetroRapid’s fleet will consists of 60 accordion-style buses is expected to run at intervals of 10-15 minutes from 5am to 1am – much shorter than anything Austinites are used to.

The buses would arrive by 2014, and the lines would open after completion of 70 stations that would be located every mile or so, on both sides of the street. Each of these “Enhanced Bus Stops” with a bench, system map, standard route sign and a real-time digital display of anticipated arrival times.

Austins’s far from the only city in North America looking to BRT. In Texas alone, both San Antonio and El Paso
expect to open their own BRT systems within the next 1-3 years.

78704 -> 78749

I am finally coming to the end of the line living in this house on Leland. I will miss it, but it’s time to move on. I’ve learned a little bit more about adult life, including such precious gems such as the city charges for trash pick-up and that keeping a house anything less than unbearable in Texas during the summer can cost you a pretty a penny. I’ll miss the location most of all, a block away from South Congress and a block from Big Stacy Park. I’m confident it’s being left in capable hands.

Next steps include moving into an apartment for the first time. I look forward to the convenience and even more to the money I will save. I’m moving in with a close friend and we’re excited to see our own living space grow organically from scratch.