The downtown tunnel, a key component of the $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's public transit system, is growing.
Local officials unveiled an expanded version of the light rail tunnel, which will now go under Lady Bird Lake to South Congress Avenue rather than over it, according to local reports.
The announcement arrived after the Texas Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have leased the underground property of Republic Square and Brush Creek Park—historic state property—to Capital Metro so that it could build the downtown tunnel as proposed.
Peter Mullan, chief of architecture and urban design for the Austin Transit Partnership, which is overseeing the implementation of Project Connect, told KUT: "We've had to basically modify our plans a little bit so that we are not touching basically Republic Square at all with any of our construction."
There were other concerns that factored into the decision, including traffic conflicts and flood zone risks on either side of Lady Bird Lake, according to Community Impact Newspaper.
Preliminary maps of the downtown tunnel show its rough pathway is south from 11th and Guadalupe streets to Republic Square; east along Fourth Street to the Downtown Station, which is between Trinity and Red River streets. From there it would head north along Trinity to 12th Street and south to the Mexican-American Cultural Center on Rainey Street, where one of the proposed light rail lines would then progress above ground across Lady Bird Lake to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Earlier plans for the downtown tunnel, mapped out here by the gray-and-yellow line, saw it crossing Lady Bird Lake above ground. New plans will it go underneath. (Capital Metro)
The new route will see the underground rail platforms originally intended to go beneath Republic Square shift north, under Guadalupe Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, according to KUT. In addition, the tunnel will now extend under the lake just west of the First Street bridge, with an underground stop at Auditorium Shoes, as reported by KVUE. It's not yet clear where the tunnel will give way to an above-ground track, with one option taking it near Academy Street on South Congress Avenue and another taking it as far down as Leland Street.
"In the case of the crossing of the lake, we learned more about some of the conflicts associated with the bridge alignment that led us to think that going underground would really be the more feasible strategy," Mullan told KVUE.
The cost of the expanded tunnel remains unknown, but ATP staff said it won't require asking voters for more money. "We have to work within the budget constraints of the funding that was provided for us by the voters … and it's up to us to figure out how to make that happen," Mullan told KVUE.
Austin voters overwhelmingly approved a property tax rate increase to help fund Project Connect last November. It will bring two light rail lines and expanded bus service in addition to the underground tunnel over the next 10 to 13 years.
The tunnel route may still change, as construction on the light rail lines isn't due to start for at least three years. In the meantime, ATP staff will present the updated plans to the ATP board on July 21. Capital Metro is also hosting a series of virtual and in-person community events to discuss changes in late July and early August.
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Someday, electric vehicles could go distances fit for road trips across Texas.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, who have previously made strides in the lithium-ion battery industry, have developed a new electrode for such batteries that could draw greater power and allow faster charging.
So far, the research has looked at just a single type of battery electrode and is in its early stages. But it offers exciting potential as some buyers consider driving range an important factor when making the switch to an EV or picking one.
Tesla’s Model Y being produced out of Giga Texas, for example, offers an estimated 330-mile range, which is lower than what many have become accustomed to in gas-powered vehicles.
So UT professor Guihua Yu, along with other researchers, had their findings on battery electrodes published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The unprecedented growth of electric vehicles during the past decade has played an indispensable role in paving the way for a carbon-neutral future,” the researchers write.
That’s why it’s key to address a hitch with next-generation batteries, where restacking material can cause “significant bottlenecks” in charge transport, Yu says. Consequently, it can be difficult to achieve high energy and fast charging.
To tackle the sluggish reactions of electrodes, the team used thin two-dimensional materials as the building blocks and stacked them to create thickness. Then, they used a magnetic field to manipulate their orientations and put the materials in vertical alignment. In doing so, researchers essentially made a fast lane for ions to travel through the electrode.
They compared their results to a commercial electrode and a horizontally arranged one for experimental control purposes. In that comparison, they recharged the vertical thick electrode to 50% energy level in 30 minutes. The horizontal electrode took 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Zhengyu Ju, a graduate student in Yu’s research group who is leading this project, said the team’s electrode shows superior electrochemical performance.
In part, that’s “thanks to the unique architecture we designed,” Ju said. It ultimately allowed for high mechanical strength, high electrical conductivity and facilitated lithium-ion transport.
Going forward, the team aims to generalize their methodology of vertically organized electrode layers to apply it to different types of electrodes using other materials. They imagine if this technique becomes more widely adopted in industry, it may create future fast-charging, high-energy batteries to power EVs.
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