Project Connect light rail and tunnel costs expected to nearly double

The original cost projection was $5.8 billion, but new figures add $4.5 billion to the cost of the Blue Line, Orange Line and Underground Tunnel.

AUSTIN, Texas — A new report from the Project Connect team shows that the voter-approved light rail project in Austin will cost nearly double initial projections.

Initially, the two light rail lines and the underground tunnel were to cost $5.8 billion. But the new cost projections add another $4.5 billion, bringing the total to $10.3 billion.

The report lists real estate, inflation and supply chain issues, and project scope changes as the three cost drivers.

“The Project Connect program is not immune to the global and national economic pressures that everyone is feeling. Transit, airport, highway, utility, housing and commercial projects are all seeing cost increases. As you all know, Austin is experiencing these impacts at an even higher level than the national average due to the unprecedented growth we are experiencing,” Project Connect program manager David Couch wrote in the report at Capital Metro plank, Austin Transit Partnership Council and Austin City Council.

Proposal A, a property tax rate increase approved by Austin voters in November 2020, was to fund a $7.1 billion public transit system, which included the light rail system, tunnels, lines of fast buses and more. The recently released projections only affect the light rail lines and the tunnel, not the other elements of the Connect project that have been approved by voters.

“As program cost estimates change, there is no need to change the tax rate that funds the program. Instead, changes in program costs could result in adjustments to project timing. to balance funding for building and operating the system. The Project Connect team remains fully committed to delivering on the promise to build the voter-approved program in November 2020,” a CapMetro spokesperson said in a statement.

Final cost estimates won’t be released until this summer, when the project is 30% design.

“We are also cautiously optimistic that the infrastructure bill endorsed by both parties and signed by the President [Joe] Biden will result in a larger federal contribution and/or annual funding disbursement than originally anticipated,” Couch wrote.

As designers continued to tweak the details of the light rail lines, there was a “significant increase in the number of affected parcels” as real estate values ​​rose in the Austin area.

The length of the tunnel also increased from 1.56 miles to 4.19 miles due to long-term street closures, FEMA flood zones and other technicalities, according to the report. Initial plans indicated that the overall cost of the tunnel would be $2 billion, but the new cost has risen to $4.1 billion.

A design update meeting this week revealed that the Orange Line tunnel will need to be longer than planned due to state laws to protect the view of the Texas Capitol. the Corridor with view of the Capitol walk down South Congress Avenue to Live Oak Street.

The rules will make the tunnel at least 900 feet longer. In total, the extended portion will stretch from Third Street to Live Oak Street, adding at least $1.4 billion to the cost of the southern portion of the Orange Line tunnel.

“To comply with state law, the first place the train can surface is south of this vantage point,” Orange Line design director Sofia Ojeda said during the meeting. Wednesday. “The current extended tunnel option is the only option currently allowed given the requirements of the [Capital View Corridor].”

The benefits of the longer tunnel, Ojeda said, are that it offers better transit efficiency, has little impact on the neighborhood and provides for a more centralized South Congress underground station.

RELATED: CapMetro Proposes Big Change for Austin’s Downtown Light Rail Tunnel

An additional $400 million is planned for the northern portion of the Orange Line, bringing the total projected cost to $4.3 billion, up from the original estimate of $2.5 billion.

The new Orange Line tunnel design is one of many that have been made public since design work began.

Original plans called for the tunnel to surface near Vic Mathias Shores, but this will not work “due to technical constraints”. The next two, but not usable, options presented last July, a short tunnel and a long tunnel, are said to have surfaced around Academy Street and Leland Street, respectively.

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