Friday, December 11, 2009

Austin adds streetcars to rail wish list

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Texas’ capital city, awaiting regional rail service delayed by at least one year, is nonetheless evaluating possible streetcar alternatives. Austin’s City Council Thursday approved $1 million to complete a preliminary engineering study for a streetcar operation designed to connect some of the city's key business districts.

"The studies to date have really looked at hooking up Mueller Airport area and the new airport--ABIA--with the very significant employment centers in Central Austin," said Robert Spillar, director of transportation for the City of Austin. They include the University of Texas, the Capitol complex, and downtown Austin. 

Austin voters in 2000 rejected a proposal for light rail transit. But the city’s transportation department says the streetcar idea is a different approach. "What the voters voted on was a specific alignment, a specific operations concept. The alignment included a route that went quite a bit north as well as quite a bit south," Spillar said.

Voter approval for the streetcar plan is required.

Austin's Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority earlier this week changed contractors for its oft-delayed diesel multiple-unit rail line.