Project Connect to Provide Light Rail Update Amid Possible Scope Changes

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin transportation leaders discussed updates to Project Connect’s light rail program on Wednesday, after officials flagged possible scope changes last month due to rising costs. of inflation.

At the July meeting of the Austin Transit Partnership, ATP officials said they expect “costs to continue on an upward trajectory above projections set in April.” Project Connect’s light rail component estimates – originally budgeted at $5.8 billion – had increased to $10.3 billion under 15% of cost and design estimates.

Officials said in July that they were working to “rethink the scope/sequencing of the project” to avoid cost increases for the program. Officials have said officially that they do not plan to increase the voter-approved tax rate used to fund the program, instead turning to sequencing alternatives to stagger the program’s launch.

On Wednesday, board members said they were continuing to work with external resources on independent cost estimates for the 30% light rail design and cost elements, incorporating certain escalating factors costs based on some of the current levels of inflation, as well as natural cost increases. overtime.

ATP executive director Greg Canally previously told KXAN in July that the rise in cost estimates was linked to rising inflation rates and construction costs impacting projects at the national scale.

“Because of the costs, we kind of have to change some of our priorities and the timing of everything,” he told KXAN in July, adding, “It’s very technical, financial, but mostly it has to be communal. .”

ATP board member Jeffrey Travillion added on Wednesday that his priority for the program is to have the technical elements in place to complete the light rail plans. He said cost estimates naturally fluctuate between proposing and building a program, but added that it was important that the technical elements were secure and that community members were kept informed of any changes or update.

“I want to know what I’m buying and what it will take to execute it,” Travillion said.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, project staff met with the city’s mobility committee, CapMetro’s joint planning and operating committee, and its community advisory committee on the light rail implementation plan.

Officials are holding a series of project development workshops this week and have considered a host of options to reinvent the light rail program, including a more streamlined underground tunnel route and which areas of the light rail will be elevated or level. of the ground.

Officials said they plan to provide monthly presentations to the board and discuss current pulse checks on key program elements and design elements they are working towards, based on technical feedback and from the community.

Project Connect officials also coordinate with the Federal Transit Administration on possible grant options, updates on light rail program development, and compliance with national environmental standards. Project development will continue from fall through spring, which will include technical and community recording opportunities.

Project Connect leaders are expected to present an updated light rail implementation plan in the spring of 2023. Work on other Project Connect features, including its bus projects and anti-displacement fundraising efforts, will continue. continue as planned.

The ATP will hold its monthly board meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday, both in the person at 203 Colorado Street and on line.

KXAN will follow Wednesday’s Austin Transit partnership meeting. Check later for updates.

Jose P. Rogers