June 1, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

Good news for light rail in Austin. Austin Transit Partnership’s Austin Light Rail Phase 1 Project has officially entered the Project Development phase under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants New Starts program – the competitive grant program that funds transit capital investments.

As planned, local funding will leverage federal dollars to fund the project. ATP is now eligible for future reimbursement of allowable costs incurred for the planning and design work to develop the project. This Project Development phase is an initial step towards the execution of a final grant agreement with the FTA.


“This milestone signals federal support for this voter-approved project and brings Austin Light Rail one step closer to delivering billions in infrastructure investments and jobs to Texas,” Greg Canally, executive director of the Austin Transit Partnership, said. “Our extensive work with our community, along with the expertise and diligence of the ATP team and partnership with FTA, has allowed us to reach this important milestone.”

Over the next two years, ATP will complete the Project Development phase, to include completing National Environmental Policy Act requirements and advancing architectural and engineering design of the system. Completing these and other activities will ensure sufficient information for FTA to evaluate and rate the light rail project under the Capital Investment Grants criteria. FTA will remain in contact with ATP, providing technical assistance and project oversight as Austin Light Rail Phase I moves through Project Development.

“‘ATP is ready for this moment—we have both national and small business firms to help advance through the Project Development process. We look forward to working with the community and FTA as, together, we continue to advance Austin Light Rail,” said Jennifer Pyne, EVP, Planning, Community and Federal Programs.  

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to throw a monkey wrench into the light rail project over bonds needed to build Project Connect. Lawyers for the city of Austin and the ATP were to go to court this past week to settle the matter but the attorney general's office asked for a continuance.

Paxton, you may recall, inserted his office into the eminent domain dispute between Texas Central Railway and landowners over their plans to build a 240 mile long high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. Paxton and the property owners lost when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas Central had the authority to acquire right-of-way, most of which would only be about 100-feet wide for two tracks.  

Several others have pushed back against the light rail project, sorely needed in a city that comes to a crawl with vehicles. They include former Austin city council member Ora Houston, former state senator Gonzalo Barrientos and the owner of a hamburger restaurant, Mark Nemir of Dirty Martins. 

The executive vice president of business and legal affairs for ATP, Casey Burack, said in a written statement that “state law allows Austin Transit Partnership and the City of Austin to use bond validation proceedings to get an expedited ruling from an impartial court. The OAG’s latest filing to delay the trial and attempt to force a premature ruling is only meant to delay bond validation proceedings with a lengthy appeals process – at the expense of Austin taxpayers." ATP wants to see an expedited ruling from an impartial judge.

Photo credit: CapMetro rendering