By Capital Metro Board Chairman Wade Cooper
Earlier this month, Capital Metro rolled out a vision for what Project Connect will bring to Central Texas. This vision was the product of a transparent community-centered process. It was conceptual in nature and identified the most important corridors that the community and Cap Metro feel are important to create a more connected and livable city. We have also stated that as we undertake the next phase of program development and engineering that even more community engagement will be needed. Now, we want to talk about what that will look like.
Step 1: Engage – 2016-2018
This process started two years ago, and it has consisted of a couple of important elements.
We’ve gone out into the community to see what you think and what you want from public transit. We’ve shown up at festivals and neighborhood meetings, talked with you at schools and food pantries. We’ve also held regular meetings with the Multimodal Community Advisory Committee (MCAC), a joint citizen’s group that advises both Project Connect and the City of Austin.
At the same time, our planning team has been reviewing years of previously published transit plans. We’ve considered the public feedback you’ve given us, studied what’s been proposed before for Central Texas, analyzed what’s already in place around the country and what is emerging around the world. This step concluded with the Vision Plan shared in October 2018 that identified the most important corridors that need more investment in transit. It was critical to decide on these corridors so they could be integrated into the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) and allow for seamless integration with the City’s Mobility Corridor Program. We would like to thank the MCAC and all of those individuals and groups that provided input to this phase of the process.
In late November 2018, our Capital Metro Board and the City of Austin will hold another Project Connect joint work session. This work session will be focused on community engagement. We will discuss these four steps as well as ideas the Board and city officials have to ensure the process is as open and community focused as possible. Additionally, Cap Metro will be holding townhalls in each City of Austin district over the next two months to discuss the Vision Plan and to hear ideas about how the next step of the process can be even more inclusive of our diverse community. Finally, the Capital Metro board will consider a vote in December 2018 on adopting the Project Connect Vision Plan, which will finalize the selection of the corridors but will not be endorsing or selecting modes for those corridors.
Step 2: Plan — 2018-2020
With our roll out of the Project Connect Vision Plan, we’ve moved on to the next step. During the CEO interview process, the Capital Metro Board identified community engagement as one of their primary expectations. Over the course of his first six months, our new CEO Randy Clarke has met an amazing number of organizations and individuals. During those conversations it became clear that while many people knew of near-term Cap Metro initiatives like Cap Remap, many were not engaged with Project Connect. Therefore, Randy has made extensive community engagement a staff priority during Step 2.
The members of the MCAC have been very valuable throughout the past two years, and my hope is that that they will stay engaged and participate in this next step. Our goal is to expand on their contributions and bring even more voices to the table including organizations that may not be directly involved in transit or planning but that will critical to make Project Connect the community’s plan.
In addition to that, Cap Metro will open a Project Connect Community Office that will provide a location to get our work done and to let you come in and see what’s new. This will reinforce our commitment to an open and transparent process. Maps will be on the walls, staff will be available to listen to ideas, and data will be available to see how our process is shaped.
This program phase will include preliminary engineering and environmental reviews of the selected corridors and potential transit services that could serve them. Potential modes will be presented in a cost benefit analysis that address important topics like capital costs, operations & maintenance costs, ridership projections, construction timeline estimates, corridor alignment options and impacts and funding models. This work will be coordinated with the ASMP and the City of Austin’s Corridor Program office. In spring 2019, Austin’s city council will consider adopting the ASMP, which will include the final Project Connect Vision Plan.
Also during this step, all modes will be studied but also emerging autonomous technology, whether as part of BRT, LRT or as it may develop into its own distinct mode. Autonomous technology was included in the Vision Plan video to visualize this concept for the further study that will happen during Step 3. At the end of this stage, a final system plan will be presented, including which vehicles would operate on which corridors. That’s when we as a community will decide what kind of transit services serve us best. Some of this work will continue into the Step 3 and Step 4 especially related to engineering and environmental reviews.
Step 3: Unite — 2020
This is essential. Our work in the community and through the MCAC and neighborhood groups will really ramp up, as Central Texas heads toward a potential vote on approving and funding a new, multi-generational transit system plan. Through our community conversations and extensive community engagement, we’ll talk through our funding options and a phasing plan, what comes first and what makes sense to make our priority.
We’ll make decisions and make them together.
Step 4: Build — 2021 & Beyond
So, you’ve got yourself a regional transit plan … how do you go from lines on a map to rubber tires on the road and/or steel wheels on a track? Getting to the final plan and — fingers crossed — securing funding for that vision isn’t the end. It’s another new beginning.
What comes next is how we implement that plan quickly, efficiently and with the fewest disruptions to our city and our region. And we’ll need you still, throughout that process too.