Talks of a new Urban Rail line may include routes around UT campus and downtown Austin

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Editor's note: This article has been changed in order to clarify that this proposal is for a new Urban Rail and is not an extension of the current MetroRail.

Austin’s City Council may vote on a new Urban Rail line, which could potentially connect to MetroRail and will include routes serving UT campus and downtown Austin.

The proposed expansion would stop in West Campus and connect UT campus and downtown via routes on San Jacinto Boulevard and Lavaca Street, said Karla Villalon, spokeswoman for the City of Austin Transportation Department. The proposed route would connect to the existing Red Line commuter rail. According to the current proposal, sources including local partnerships, bonds and aid from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program. The rail would be designed to accommodate further development if need be, Villalon said.

“What we’re trying to create is a rail network that you could connect through all these different rail lines and not have to take a car,” Villalon said. “What’s proposed today is really a stem that would get urban rail started, and could be expanded if citizens have a need for it.”

Villalon said keeping citizens and students informed about the development of the rail has been an important factor in creating the proposal.

“There have been numerous studies that have led up to this alignment, all of which have been very open and public processes with a lot of input,” Villalon said. “We initiated some environmental studies for an urban rail last year. In April one of our meetings was at the AT&T Center in order be accessible for students to participate. We’re very cognizant of that.”

The possibility of the Urban Rail is not yet set in stone, said Leah Fillion, spokeswoman for the City of Austin Transportation Department. City council will decide by August whether to vote on the proposal this fall.

“It’s not been confirmed yet that it’s going to be on a November ballot,” Fillion said. “It would be the council that would make that call.”

Eric Porter, civil engineering graduate student and research assistant in the school of Engineering’s Center for Transportation Research, said the only real issue with the rail would be how the city goes about funding it.

“As far as the urban rail goes, it’s a good technology and a proven technology, and it would definitely serve the downtown area and UT campus well,” Porter said. “The main problem is how are you going to fund it and how would you promote it.”

Whether or not the Urban Rail goes into effect, Porter said it’s important for the city to be able to find outlets for its current traffic congestion problem.

“I don’t really know everything there is to know about the proposal so I can’t really say I’m all for it, but I do think it’s important to get people out of automobiles,” Porter said. “As I’m sure is obvious, traffic congestion in Austin is reaching a boiling point.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as: MetroRail expansion would serve UT campus