Capital Metro vision could cost more than $10 billion, study shows


Detailed estimates from Cap Metro’s Project Connect plan show possible construction costs of $10.5 billion.

But agency officials say that total assumes 11 light rail lines, and a maximum $8 billion cost is more likely.

The corridor-by-corridor estimates show high operating costs and up to 120,000 per day in ridership.

Realizing Capital Metro’s dream of a network of “high-capacity” rail or bus routes throughout Austin could cost at least $10.5 billion to build, according to detailed estimates from a long-term plan released last week.

Beyond that, operating just nine of the 11 major transit corridors envisioned in the Project Connect plan — the agency did not release estimates for two of them — would cost $75 million to $177 million a year. By comparison, Capital Metro’s overall operating budget this fiscal year, which includes about 80 bus routes, a rail line and door-to-door services for people with certain disabilities, is $262.4 million.

The construction cost estimate in the draft plan of $10.5 billion, which reflects nine of the 11 corridors, differs sharply from an overall estimate of $6 billion to $8 billion listed in a Monday presentation to the agency’s board. Capital Metro spokesman Peter Partheymuller said the lower range is agency officials’ best take on where costs would settle.

The higher figure assumes that light rail would be built on all the corridors in the plan, and that almost surely will not happen, he said.

READ: Capital Metro lays out ambitious rail and rapid bus plan for Austin

“It’s more likely to be in that $6 billion to $8 billion range,” Partheymuller said. “It’s extremely early in the process, so these numbers are very preliminary.”

The agency remains coy about its preference for which mode of transit — light rail, “rapid” bus or something else entirely — to run in each of those corridors. But Capital Metro President and CEO Randy Clarke said this week it is essential that these priority corridors have a portion of the street right of way dedicated exclusively to transit, no matter the mode.

“Over the next couple of months, we’ll narrow it down to a recommended mode,” Todd Hemingson, the agency’s vice president of strategic planning and development, said Wednesday at a “Traffic Jam” open house held at Austin’s new Central Library. The Capital Metro board in June will vote on a final version of the plan, officials said. Then, probably in December, the agency staff will ask the board to vote again on a specific first phase of one or more corridor projects.

That in turn could lead to some sort of 2020 rail election, officials said, because state law requires Capital Metro to pass a referendum to expand its current one-line rail system. Or perhaps the city of Austin, as it did unsuccessfully in 2014, could ask voters for authority to sell bonds to raise money for building rail or exclusive lanes for bus service.

Fifty-seven percent of voters said no to a rail plan and $600 million in bonded debt in the 2014 election. A Capital Metro referendum in 2000 to authorize light rail construction failed by less than 2,000 votes. With 62 percent approving, voters in 2004 gave Capital Metro permission to build the 32-mile MetroRail line from downtown Austin to Leander.

READ: New law makes it hard to track driverless car testing in Texas

The plan and upcoming Capital Metro board votes are the initial steps in what would be a lengthy and labyrinthine process of environmental studies, pursuit of federal grants and local efforts to raise huge sums that likely would include bond elections. Building out the plan could take 25 to 30 years, Capital Metro officials said.

Taken together, the nine corridors — Capital Metro and its consultants have not released figures on the proposed South Pleasant Valley Road or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard corridors — would have 61,000 to 122,000 boardings a day. However, all of the corridors have current bus routes or existing rail service, and it was not clear if the figures listed would be in addition to current ridership.

The agency’s estimates for the nine corridors are:

• North Lamar/Guadalupe, what the agency is calling the orange line: $700 million to $2.4 billion capital cost, with boardings up to 30,000 a day.

• South Congress, the brown line: $359 million to $1 billion cost, with up to 18,000 boardings a day.

• East Riverside, the blue line: $404 million to $1.5 billion cost, with up to 18,000 boardings a day.

• MetroRail, the red line: $55 million to $206 million in additional cost to the existing line, with up to 10,000 boardings a day.

• Manor Road, the purple line: $520 million to $1.6 billion cost, with up to 15,000 boardings a day.

• South Lamar, the yellow line: $555 million to $1.6 billion cost, with up to 14,000 boardings a day.

• ACC Highland, the gold line: $340 million to $876 million cost, with up to 7,500 boardings a day.

• MetroRail to Manor and Elgin, the green line: $264 million to $362 million cost, with up to 1,900 boardings a day.

• Seventh/Lake Austin, the pink line: $143 million to $898 million cost, with up to 7,500 boardings a day.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Multiple fire departments working to contain wildfire north of Burnet
Multiple fire departments working to contain wildfire north of Burnet

Burnet County sheriff’s office officials said Sunday night a wildfire estimated to be about 500 acres mostly across ranch land is being worked on by multiple fire departments. The officials said no evacuations were being made, but that they would be issued via reverse 911 if warranted. The wildfire was west of County Road 108 and north of Burnet...
Lakeway police: Mom in hot car charged with child endangerment
Lakeway police: Mom in hot car charged with child endangerment

A Lakeway woman was arrested Saturday on charges of abandoning or endangering a child after police say she refused to roll down the windows in 104-degree heat. Adriane Grace Moss, 34, was found in her car with her 10-year-old son after he called 911, saying he had woken up in the car and had been there for about an hour. Police said Moss refused to...
Three bodies recovered after San Marcos apartment fire
Three bodies recovered after San Marcos apartment fire

Fire investigators recovered three bodies Sunday from the rubble of a fire that broke out early Friday at the Iconic Village and Vintage Pads apartments, San Marcos city officials said. All three people were pronounced dead at the scene, officials said, and their bodies have been taken to the Travis County medical examiner’s office for autopsy...
Texas Digest: Dallas man convicted for Islamic State revenge slaying

DALLAS Man convicted for revenge slaying A 33-year-old man is facing up to life in prison after a Dallas jury convicted him of a slaying prosecutors said was intended as revenge for Islamic State-linked shootings in Garland and San Bernardino, Calif. Anthony Paz Torres was charged with fatally shooting a bystander outside a tire store owned by a Muslim...
Woman airlifted from Mount Bonnell
Woman airlifted from Mount Bonnell

A woman has been air-lifted from Mount Bonnell to a hospital after sustaining a leg injury, Austin Fire Department officials said. Emergency crews responded to the call around 11 a.m. Sunday after the woman reportedly tripped and fell on the trail. The woman is in stable condition with minor injuries, EMS said.
More Stories