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Transit leaders review Austin's urban rail plans

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TWC News: Transit leaders review Austin's urban rail plans
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Austin's urban rail received a cool response from some of the country's top transit leaders.

A panel of six transportation experts highlighted concerns they have about rail plans for Central Texas Friday—the same week Capital Metro announced it's seeing more riders than ever on its buses and trains.

The experts from Dallas and Salt Lake City want more concrete numbers when it comes to how many people would ride urban rail.

"Based on the amount of work that had been done and still needs to be done, ridership is an absolutely key element of the effort going forward," Steve Salin with Dallas Area Rapid Transit said.

Austin city planners expect about 7,000 urban rail passengers between the Mueller Development and downtown each day. The transit leaders and some local rail advocates wonder why the route is not through a busier area.

"The corridor that is needed for rail is the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor," independent rail consultant Lyndon Henry said.

Instead of rail, transit planners want to put high-capacity buses on Lamar and Guadalupe, as well as a few other routes in the region.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell hopes that, coupled with express lanes on MoPac by next year, will convince voters to buy into urban rail.

"There are a lot of different elements to a regional plan. We would not hold one element of it hostage to the other," Mayor Leffingwell said.

Leffingwell stated at Friday’s meeting that he does not want a repeat of MetroRail. That plan went before voters two times before passing."

"Success breeds success,” Michael Allegra with the Utah Transit Authority said. “Our philosophy was to start relatively small and build on top of that."

Allegra says it took 16 years to lay the first tracks in Salt Lake City. The following 12 years brought 12 more routes to ease road congestion.

Their overall advice: keep the wheels moving and the public will jump on board for the long-haul.

The first phase of urban rail is expected to cost $550 million. Eventually, plans would extend urban rail north to McNeil Road near MoPac, south to South Congress and Slaughter, as well as east to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

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