Friday, December 18, 2009


Some telling comments from the Austin Chronicle:
Council Member Sheryl Cole sits with Leffingwell on the Transit Working Group; she had heard Allen say there he believed pressure to meet a November 2004 rail referendum deadline had shortchanged the design and engineering work on the Red Line. In Allen's assessment, inadequate early planning, design, and engineering work, combined with a failure to engage sufficient outside expertise, had led to an unrealistic budget and schedule.
I wrote about the quick switch from LRT to Commuter Rail in my Master's report. Capital Metro had only been working on the Red Line plan for a few months before they made the decision to put it before voters in the summer. They had been talking about LRT up until January of 2004. Contacts at UT had mentioned that Capital Metro had stopped talking to them cold turkey to pursue this other plan. From my Masters report (Thesis)
According to John Rishling, Vice President for Campus Planning at the University of Texas, light rail planning continued until January of 2004 when talks with John Almond, the lead engineer for the rail project, all of the sudden stopped. Rishling stated that the Pickle Research Center in North Austin between the red line and the Union Pacific line is being planned as a residential campus for students of the University of Texas and transit was needed to connect it to the main campus. Maps in Rishling’s office suggest light rail be built down San Jacinto Street but even by August he had not heard anything from the transit agency except for what he read in the news...In March of 2004 Capital Metro announced their proposed system.
From Doug Allen's account it seems as if they didn't have enough time to think this plan through before the election. More than likely they devised the plan for the Red Line in two months based on years of putting the alternatives against each other. In other words it smells of bad push politics from people like Mike Krusee, which we knew all along was spinning away from light rail and pushing for rail towards his district, not in Capital Metro's service area.

But even more hidden gold from interim CEO Doug Allen:
In October's meeting, Allen said the cost of the Red Line commuter rail system "probably could and should have" been $300 million (to build it out properly, with double tracking) to serve the transit ridership potential in that corridor – still a good price for a 32-mile system.
I don't think this should be hard for everyone to understand. 38,000 riders for LRT in 2000 versus 2,000 riders for Commuter rail in 2004. It's not rocket science. The politics was messy and Capital Metro allowed themselves to get pushed into it. This didn't start with the current contractor, this started back before 2000 with Krusee who was head of the House Transportation Committee. Again from my Masters Report:
Representative Krusee proposed a starter red line replacing the 1998 consultant’s green line light rail in 2000. Consultants in 1998 believed that the green line was a better route for ridership production however it was turned down by the voters in 2000. It seemed that commuter rail was on Senator Krusee’s mind even before the 2000 election. In a 2000 Austin American Statesman article, he was quoted, “I wish they would be more open-minded to alternatives to light rail”.
His fixation on that freight line led to a poorly planned line and here we are seeing the results in 2009. Thanks Mike, glad you had your revelations after you lost your power to do anything about it.


M1EK said...

I find it irritating how the Chron still lets them get away with the implication that a double-tracked Red Line doesn't suck just as much. Even they knew better at one point; in this article I stumbled upon recently from the 2000 run-up:

The money quote:

"(Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and -- even though it was on existing rail right of way -- only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a "not recommended" kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.) "

Note that this was for a 1998-era proposal which involved building what is now the Red Line as completely double-tracked LRT (new tracks, electric wires). The Feds still thought the ridership would be awful even with the second magic track.

Peter said...

i predict this line will be a success within 10 years of its opening. it'll require walkable/bikeable areas around all the stations, ideally with full bike parking amenities, but even if the land use/other support is minimal, i still suspect this line will do very well.

austin has no other alternative. driving sucks. people are fed up. once they get a taste of how decent life can be without a car, they'll jump on board.

of course, the town really needs a bike group or some other grassroots organization to start battling for citizens. a Streetsblog Austin would be awesome, too.