Group continues push for Urban Rail in Austin

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As traffic congestion increases in Austin, Austinites for Urban Rail Action met Thursday to discuss alternative transportation methods in Central Texas — including a potential light rail system called Urban Rail.

Representatives of the group spoke at the meeting about the future of Urban Rail, a system that has been effective in many major cities in the nation, and how it could be implemented in Austin. This is partly in response to Austin’s rapidly growing population. According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, 7 percent of Austin’s residents in 2011 lived elsewhere in 2010.

Urban Rail is a light rail system which is imbedded in the streets and runs alongside existing streets and highways. According to the Urban Rail website, Urban Rail railcars take up the same space as six Jeeps lined up front to back but hold 165 people, providing a cost, energy and space efficient alternative to being stuck in traffic.

Phase One of the Urban Rail project is estimated to cost roughly $275 million locally, with matching federal funds contributed for a total of $550 million. 

The changes in Austin transportation are spearheaded by a nonpartisan initiative called Project Connect, a partner of Capital Metro, LStar, Campo and the city of Austin. Kyle Keahey, one of the Urban Rail initiative leaders from Project Connect, spoke at Thursday’s meeting. Keahey said that his goal is to keep the people of Austin informed on the data and details of the Urban Rail project, using Austinites for Urban Rail Action as one of his outlets for disseminating information.

Jace Deloney, founder of the group, said the organization’s goal is to increase transparency in the transportation changes coming to Austin.

“We’re trying to make this process as open, transparent and data-driven as possible,” Deloney said.  

Austin citizen Mike Gorse said he felt confident that increased transparency is necessary to generate support.

“I think if people feel informed, then [the legislation will] be more likely to pass. It seems like something that the public will want,” Gorse said.

Andrew Houston, an architecture and urban studies senior, said he has high hopes for Urban Rail.  

“My hope is that Urban Rail will become a part of Austin in the near future,” Houston said.

Julio Gonzalez, a member of the Austinites for Urban Rail Action executive committee,  said he feels optimistic about the future of the Urban Rail process.

“Hopefully, the data will help us get together, and it sounds like the time is now,” Gonzalez said. “It’s up to you to help make this process a success.”