The big plan unveiled: A $1.4 billion urban rail network for Austin

metrorailfile-304xx4368-2912-0-0City officials and Project Connect have recommended the city pursue a $1.38 billion urban rail network running a 9.5-mile route from Highland Mall through downtown and ending on East Riverside Boulevard.

The system will cross Lady Bird Lake via a $175 million bridge and navigate under the existing Red Line train tracks near Hancock Plaza through a $220 million tunnel. Along the way, transit planners ruled out a cheaper but less scalable bus rapid transit mode option, a tunnel under Lady Bird Lake and a cheaper but less connective tunnel north of downtown.

The system is expected to draw a daily ridership of more than 8,000 – or a total of between 16,000 to 20,000 boardings each day by 2030. Officials noted that ridership estimates have historically been lower than actually seen at system opening.

Transit planners have yet to determine phasing for the project, which will play a big role in the amount of funding voters may be asked to approve at the bond election in November.

The phasing reveal will come at an upcoming briefing on May 16, where officials will also detail their recommendation for governance and a rough estimate of how much it may cost to operate the system.

The initial cost of constructing the system will hopefully be offset by federal transit grants, which could fund up to half of the project, planners said.

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