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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‘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.