Project Connect teases new Pleasant Valley light rail and route design proposal

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Project Connect officials teased new design proposals for the program system in a construction update Thursday, including improved features at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road.

The Riverside and Pleasant Valley station runs alongside the Blue Line light rail system, an 8.2 mile ride as part of the Project Connect program. Initially, the project managers teased two design options between which they were weighing.

Choice #1 proposed a Blue Line underpass system, with vehicular traffic from Pleasant Valley Road running on the light rail track. Given the more hilly geographic nature of Pleasant Valley Road, project representatives stated that there were some difficulties in constructing an underpass system. In the design project, another drawback was the location of the bus stop on the traffic lanes, which made it difficult for pedestrians to access.

Concerns and comments expressed by members of the public following a public meeting in September included:

  • Elevator access, security measures, durability and capacity
  • Accessibility issues to reach the metro station
  • Concerns about connections between different modes of travel, such as light rail and bus services
  • More efficient for car/vehicle traffic

Choice #2 featured a roundabout and an at-grade transit plaza for the convergence of light rail and bus traffic. However, pedestrians still had to cross multiple lanes of traffic to access light rail and bus services under this design.

Feedback received for this design included:

  • Better for transit users, pedestrians and cyclists
  • In favor of adding green space
  • Easier transfer opportunities between buses and light rail
  • Concerns about potential impacts on vehicular/vehicle traffic
  • Concerns about vehicle-pedestrian interactions and safety issues at crosswalks

The newest option #3 proposes to relocate the eastbound traffic lanes along Riverside Drive a little further north, so they exit the hill and remove some grade constraints. This would allow traffic to flow along a flat structure.

With these proposed changes, it would also result in a regrading of Pleasant Valley Road, since the hill will not be as high as it is now.

“The benefit of doing this is that it allows us to get the best of both worlds on the original proposal,” said Lonny Stern of the Austin Transit Partnership.

This also allows for additional space for bus and train connections in the same location, as well as additional location creation functionality.

Based on preliminary cost estimates, this third design proposal would add an additional $20 million to the Pleasant Valley Transit Center’s budget. Comparatively, Option 1 would add the highest rise, costing an additional $50 million, while the ground-level roundabout feature would meet the preliminary base station project costs.

Project Connect officials are expected to release 30% design and cost estimates this summer, along with a draft environmental impact statement. Officials added that the property tax rate approved by voters in November 2020 would not change despite increased project costs due to real estate, inflation and changes to the scope of the program.

“[That tax rate] will not increase,” Stern said. “There will be no additional tax assessor requests for this project. We will either be making difficult decisions about the project itself or adjusting the timing of project elements to stay within available funding.

Jose P. Rogers