Obama to Congress: Fund MetroRapid!

As we all know, Capital Metro could always use some good news and the good news is (insert drum roll here)…we actually have some darn good news! Really!

Yesterday, President Obama (yes, THE President of the United States himself, Mr. Barack Obama) proposed his FY 2011 budget and it included $24 million in *additional* federal funds for Capital Metro’s MetroRapid project. Yahoo!

(While I like to think that Barack really, really likes Austin, Texas and Capital Metro, I do have to acknowledge that it was actually the suits at the Federal Transit Administration who deemed our project worthy of federal funds and thus sent that little recommendation over to the White House.)

Part of our All Systems Go long-range plan, Capital Metro’s MetroRapid bus rapid transit (BRT) project (say that three times fast) is designed to reduce your travel time by up to twenty percent. Ludicrous, you say. How?, you ask. With features such as a traffic signal priority system that holds traffic lights green a little longer and, in the future, queue jump lanes designed to let buses bypass traffic. Additionally, there will be less stops and service every 10 to 15 minutes. MetroRapid stops will also be close to local service bus stops and connect to two MetroRail stations for quick and easy connections.

Initial service will include two routes: North Lamar/South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar. The total capital cost to build the first two lines is approximately $47 million. At about $1.2 million per mile for capital, the MetroRapid project is very cost-effective for a premium transit service.

To take full advantage of this opportunity to toot our own (MetroRapid bus) horns, I should point out that this is actually the second fiscal year in which our MetroRapid project was included in the President’s budget (and recommended by the FTA). In FY 2010, we were awarded $13.4 million in federal funds. Combine that with the newly recommended $24 million and the federal total becomes $37.4 million—or 80 percent of our total estimated capital cost of $47 million. This new funding recommendation is a great indication that we are on our way to securing a full-funding grant agreement with the feds. (Since an eighty percent funding level is the maximum amount of federal funding provided for capital grants under the Very Small Starts program, the feds call this “full” funding.)

Additionally, led by our principal long-range planner, Surinder Marwah, Capital Metro was able to speed through what is normally a lengthy and highly competitive grant process and we navigated through the Very Small Starts capital grant program much more quickly than is the norm for other transit agencies. For people who know how long federal review and approvals take: we submitted the project in August 2008. Pretty awesome, huh? (Since Surinder would humbly want me to point this out, I’ll say that he also says that this is a team effort, accomplished by many Capital Metro staff, and lots of very helpful assistance from the FTA (though my understanding is that Surinder did yeoman’s work). In fact, he has worked on this project for years!)

The project has been approved for project development and Capital Metro has received environmental clearance from the FTA. We are currently working with them on a Project Construction Grant Agreement (PCGA). The agency is also in the process of vehicle acquisition (talk about fancy buses!) and, in partnership with the City of Austin, we have completed design of the signal priority system. And to probably the most burning question on your minds, When will it open?, I will say that we *hope/plan* to begin service on the first line, North Lamar/South Congress, in 2012.

So keep your fingers crossed! We still gotta make it through Congress but hopefully they will keep our funding in there (which I hear is typically the case for FTA-recommended grants) and we can ride the Rapid all through town.

Still want more info? If so, you can check out the route map and dig around online at http://allsystemsgo.capmetro.org/capital-metrorapid.shtml.

3 thoughts on “Obama to Congress: Fund MetroRapid!

  1. Very misleading. The 20% travel time reduction is compared to the existing LOCAL service (#1), not to the existing express service (#101).

    Y’all may have fooled the Feds into buying you new rolling stock under the guise of BRT, but some of us aren’t buying it. The signal-holding device won’t be worth anything in the afternoon congestion on Guadalupe (it’s not the light in front of the bus holding it up; it’s the light six blocks down and the cars in front).

    About all this service WILL do is finally put a nail in the coffin of rail on Guadalupe – where, in any sane city, rail would be delivered first, as it’s where all the jobs and all the other activity centers are – not anywhere near the Red Line; not, even, over on San Jacinto.

  2. Don Dickson

    I keep wondering how/why the City of Austin can synchronize the holiday lights on Congress Avenue, but not the traffic lights.

    Will this new transit modality make a difference? Who knows. Half the time even our 60-footers don’t have enough room to make the left turn from Guadalupe to 11th Street.

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