Mar 14, 2023 - News

Austin's light rail might not connect to airport

The blue line stands for potential rail line options. Screenshot of Austin Transit Partnership briefing material

Transit officials are now considering scratching a plan to link a new light-rail line to the airport as part of an effort to rein in the ballooning costs of the city's transit expansion effort.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign that the voter-approved plan to more effectively connect Austin together may not be fully realized.

What's happening: Of five Project Connect light-rail options presented in transit briefing material earlier this month to city staff and obtained by Axios, only one appears to make it to the airport — with another two terminating near the intersection of Riverside and Texas 71.

  • The final two options appear to reach only to Riverside and Pleasant Valley, about 4.5 miles from the airport.
  • Of note: The maps, which transit officials say are evolving day to day, were previously reported in the Austin Politics newsletter.

What they're saying: "Austin Transit Partnership has been working diligently since last summer to develop updated Austin light-rail options that will fulfill the will of the voters by meeting the community's needs and staying within budget," Greg Canally, executive director of Austin Transit Partnership, set up by the City of Austin and Cap Metro to design, finance and build Project Connect, said in a statement.

Between the lines: The potential revision comes as state lawmakers are hammering the project as unnecessary and costly.

  • Austin-area Republican state representative — and former Austin City Council member — Ellen Troxclair proposed a measure that would require the transit project to get voter approval before issuing any future debt.
  • Voters in 2020 approved a city tax hike to pay for the project, but a re-do vote could doom it.

Catch up quick: Driven by real estate prices and spiking inflation, cost estimates for the project's two planned light-rail lines, including a potential downtown tunnel, have increased from $5.8 billion to $10.3 billion, per a Project Connect briefing memo last year.

What's next: Project Connect kicks off another round of community engagement with an open house at the Austin Central Library on March 21, from 4-7pm.

  • "Community feedback will be critical over the next several weeks in order to finalize a light rail implementation plan that will connect people to the destinations, jobs and services that they need and want to visit," Canally said.

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