Austin Commuter Rail to Transform

By: Lisa Gray

Those who have lived in Austin long enough have seen some amazing growth. Since 1980 the population of this ultra-cool Texas town has more than doubled. In 2006 the population stood at a respectable 709,000 (TWICE that for "Greater Austin"). Now, being Austin, this abundant growth happened with style and forethought.

The "Keep Austin Weird" slogan helped the city retain a diverse selection of small local shops and services, while minimizing the steam-roller effect of big box stores so often associated with development. Music, art, and culture all flourished, and while the world knows about the plethora of live music venues here, Austin is also home to numerous galleries, museums, theatres, and restaurants. Finally, while Austinites kept their city "weird", they also kept it clean, and were recognized by MSN as having "The Greenest City in America". However, one problem, faced by more and more Austin residents, is the traffic, especially in the Northwest corridor. But that too will be dealt with, in fact the solution is scheduled to start in late 2008.

The solution - or at least part of it - is Capital MetroRail, a new light rail service that will run, in the beginning, from Leander (26 miles northwest of Austin), through Cedar Park, McNeil and the community of Abercrombie, past the Highland Mall, across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and terminating downtown at the Austin Convention Center. This section of Capital MetroRail will cover 32 miles - with approximately nine stations along the route - from the Austin's northwesterly outskirts to the city center. The benefits of this sort of rapid transit system to a city like Austin are many, from reducing carbon emissions, to cutting down on commuter time, and even making a night out in the "live music capital' that much more enjoyable. Of course, plans do not stop with just this one line.

For tax-payers, one of the best things about this deal is that, because Capital MetroRail will be using existing rail lines costs will be significantly lower than many other urban rail services. So, although city officials are quick to point out that future commuter rail lines will require a referendum, many Austin residents are hopeful that their neighborhood will be next. Future plans include an Eastern line heading out towards Elgin, and a line heading north through Pflugerville. In addition to the Capital MetroRail lines, Austinites will also be able to take advantage of a Regional Commuter rail service that will run from San Antonio through Austin, to Round Rock and beyond. What a great time to be living in Austin!

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