Thursday marked a historic day for Capital Metro. Joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Capital Metro President and CEO, Capital Metro Board Chair Mike Martinez and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, announced that Capital Metro was a recipient of an $11.3-million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant.
The grant will enable Capital Metro to advance a number of rail improvements, including increasing the speed at which MetroRail trains operate, and beginning or completing several state-of-good- repair projects. Additionally, the funding will provide operational flexibility for future service enhancements.
The $11.3-million TIGER grant will support several commuter and freight rail enhancements at Capital Metro, including:
• Railway and signal timing improvements that will help reduce vehicle delays and rail traffic congestion.
• Commuter rail improvements, including additional sidings and double tracking in the most critical areas, which are projected to increase ridership capacity by 15 percent and reduce commute times by five to ten minutes.
• Freight rail enhancements, including the replacement of several bridges, and rail rehabilitation and realignments that will increase speeds and enhance safety while doubling freight capacity and improving reliability.
“These TIGER projects are the best argument you can make for investment in our transportation infrastructure,” said Secretary Foxx. “Projects such as Austin’s efforts to improve its freight and passenger rail network, ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.”
The reality is, MetroRail ridership is booming. Since the Red Line launched in 2010, ridership is up 225%, proving if you build it, they will come.
And come they have. MetroRail is now averaging over 65,000 boardings a month, with trains at full capacity during peak hours. In 2012, we saw our one millionth passenger trip and it’s very clear to that demand is only going to increase as the region continues to grow.
It’s also clear that people have come to view MetroRail as one of their best options to connect to the places and events they want to go.
Take South by Southwest as an example. MetroRail first served the annual conference in 2011 and since then, ridership has increased by over 65%. But it’s not just SXSW — During the inaugural Formula 1 race at the Circuit of the Americas, MetroRail had nearly 14,000 boardings, including almost 2,000 on the special Sunday service that was added to accommodate the demand. We’re expecting even more demand for MetroRail when race fans return to Austin this November. Also, nearly 22,000 people have taken MetroRail to get to the popular Pecan Street Festival since 2010.
The Red Line certainly gets people moving, and gets them to the places they want to be. It also gets them there on time. Historically, MetroRail has an on-time performance record of 99%.
But it’s not just MetroRail ridership that’s increased — economic development along the Red Line is booming.
For example, Midtown Commons is a transit-oriented development located next to Crestview station. Prior to MetroRail, this area was a brownfield—which means it was a former petrochemicals plant. Now, it’s a vibrant and modern, mixed-use development that includes a brewery, retail shops, live & work units, and apartments—with an integrated transit plaza that provides easy access to a wide variety of destinations.
In fact, Midtown Commons Manager, Heidi Piper, has said they located their development at Crestview as a commitment to providing housing in transit-rich locations.
MetroRail has been a factor in more than $95-million in new development so far around Capital Metro’s nine stations, with another $283-million in various stages of development.
Capital Metro was one of 52 recipients of TIGER grants.
More than 585 applications totaling $9 billion in requests were received for this round’s availability of $474 million grants. The money is designated as investments in high-impact port, road, rail and transit projects.