The City of Austin has pinned down two out of the original 78 city-owned properties for potential homeless encampments as well as a new "bridge" shelter to transition people to permanent housing.
The two sites
The sites were evaluated for accessibility to transportation, safety from fires and floods, and proximity to schools. According to a city memo, the shelters would cost about $3 million to operate annually: $1.3 million for the first and $1.6 million for the second, not including the cost of utilities. The site locations have yet to be disclosed, awaiting an analysis of possible zoning issues.
According to the memo, the city is looking at a variety of structures to place on the encampment: "tiny home"-like structures without kitchens or bathrooms, which would cost about $5,000-10,000 per unit; temporary individual shelters at $4,000-$8,000 per unit or a Sprung shelter, a large tent that would cost $320,000 to purchase or $19,000 monthly to lease, plus $56,000 for assembly.
An earlier memo estimated costs for 50-100-person shelters but a Sprung shelter would hold around 300 beds. Each encampment will have bathrooms and handwashing stations onsite.
Another bridge shelter
A Thursday memo from the city said it is taking the next steps to use an existing ProLodge shelter, which was used to house infected COVID-19 patients, to convert into a second bridge shelter. Bridge shelters act as transitional places for homeless residents to temporarily stay; the goal is that residents will eventually be moved into permanent housing.
The bridge shelter, a former Days Inn on 3105 N. Interstate Hwy 35, will provide 55 rooms and is expected to open in mid-August. The shelter was leased on June 25 and the $4.2 million price tag is being paid with money from the American Rescue Plan. Austin City Council voted to direct $106.7 million of federal pandemic relief funds through the American Rescue Plan to the homelessness crisis last month.
"We've said all along we will not lose sight of the need to create real solutions to help people get back into permanent housing, with the services they need to stay there–but we also recognize the immediate need for a safe place to sleep until that happens," City of Austin Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said in a statement.
The first bridge shelter, Southbridge, a former Rodeway Inn off Interstate 35 near Oltorf Street, opened in mid-June with 75 rooms. The Homeless Strategy Division is looking to make 125 more beds available across existing shelters and if previous COVID-related capacity restrictions can be relaxed, the number might jump to 300.
The city is also looking at well-lit parking sites with at least 50 spaces for homeless people who sleep in their cars, which would cost around $80,000 per year, including restrooms and security.
City Council is expected to give another update on July 22.
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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Plans for an Amazon warehouse in Round Rock—a $250 million project slated to be a large distribution center—are on hold.
This comes just after the tech giant had its worst financial quarter in seven years.
- Late last year, it announced an expansion at the Domain adding 2,000 more corporate and tech jobs.
- Amazon still owns the site in Round Rock. Plans for it are unclear.
- Early this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is aiming to scrap warehouse space as it faces a slowdown in its e-commerce operations.
Part of that effort involves exploring the possibility of ending or renegotiating leases with outside warehouse owners. Another aspect is a plan to sublease warehouse space.
“It allows us to relieve the financial obligations associated with an existing building that no longer meets our needs,” an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. “Subleasing is something many established corporations do to help manage their real estate portfolio.”
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