Capital Metro has been awarded a $11.3 million federal grant as part of the fifth round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, discretionary grant program.
The grant will allow 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. In addition, the funding will provide operational flexibility for future service enhancements.
“I am thrilled that we are able to bring this substantial federal grant back to our region to help enhance our transit system,” said Capital Metro President and CEO Linda S. Watson. “This funding will go a long way towards helping the agency provide high quality service to its customers in many areas, including adding capacity on MetroRail, where ridership has more than tripled since 2010 and is standing-room-only during peak hours.”
Ridership on MetroRail has achieved an average of over 65,000 boardings a month during 2013 to-date, and hit the one-millionth passenger trip milestone in mid-2012. Ridership has seen a 225 percent increase in average daily boardings since service began.
In addition to its regular use on weekdays and Saturday, it is also heavily used during the many special events held in Austin each year. These include mega-events such as the 10-day SXSW festival, where nearly 50,000 trips were taken in 2013 and Formula 1, which saw close to 14,000 boardings during the inaugural three-day race in 2012.
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 U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony 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.”
With Austin’s population now the 11th largest in the United States, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell is thankful the U.S. Department of Transportation recognized the need for transportation investment in central Texas.
“The number one thing I hear from Austinites is that we need to expand the transportation options in our rapidly growing city, and this grant helps to do just that,” said Leffingwell. “As a former mayor, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx understands the impact these funds will have on the ground in assisting with our city transportation issues. Our community is grateful for the help.”
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who advocated for Capital Metro in Washington, D.C., called the grant vital for the people of the region.
“This is a big win for Capital Metro,” said Doggett. “In these difficult budget times, getting a TIGER grant is as tough as catching a tiger by its tail. This funding means an even faster and more reliable ride on the Red Line."
State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who wrote a letter of support to the Department of Transportation, says the grant will have immediate benefits.
"Everyone knows congestion is growing in Central Texas — and it’s stretching the financial resources we have to fight it," he said. "This effort will help Capital Metro offer more transit options to more people. I'm pleased that the federal government, in providing this grant, has acknowledged the importance of it."
Austin City Council Member and Capital Metro Board Chairman Mike Martinez had high praise for the agency’s leadership, and its ongoing efforts to enhance services.
“This is another testament to the hard work of President Watson, her staff, the board of directors, and all the Capital Metro family towards providing a great transit service this community needs,” said Chairman Martinez. “We've come a long way and this support will allow even more citizens to come along for the ride.
In addition to Senator Watson, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) also wrote letters of support on behalf of Capital Metro.
Other supporters who wrote letters include the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Steam Train Association, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Lone Star Rail District, Watco, Hanson and Balcones Resources.
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.