Dramatic downtown Austin drone flight reveals scope of Project Connect's massive underground rail tunnel
A massive underground light rail system running through downtown Austin could be in the city's future. The downtown transit tunnel would separate the light rail lines proposed under Project Connect—Capital Metro's 20-year, $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's transit system—from street traffic in an attempt to make public transit safer and more reliable.
Last month, Austin City Council unanimously approved a measure to add Project Connect to the Nov. 3 ballot, where it will be up to voters to decide whether to approve and fund the plan with an increased city property tax rate.
The proposed tunnel is still being developed, but preliminary maps show its rough pathway is south from 11th and Guadalupe streets to Republic Square; east along 4th Street to the Downtown Station, which is between Trinity and Red River streets; and north along Trinity to 12th Street. The tunnel would also continue south from the Downtown Station 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.
Capital Metro will determine the estimated specifications and costs of the proposed tunnel during the next phase of engineering later this year. The tunnels coincide with the downtown portions of two proposed light rail lines where "maximum conflicts exist and can be avoided," an agency spokesperson said in an email to Austonia.
While the Austin Chalk—dense, hard, native limestone found beneath the city—could be seen as an obstacle for the tunnel, it is actually not, according to the city spokesperson.
"The Austin chalk and limestone are very good materials for tunneling," she said. "The engineering phase will identify any potential geological issues."
The main barrier remains the cost for such a project.
Council members approved a scaled-down version of the Project Connect plan due to economic uncertainty brought about by the pandemic. An earlier version, approved by council in June, would have included three light rail lines and cost $10 billion.
If approved by voters, the $7.1 billion plan will increase the city property tax rate by 8.5 cents. For the median homeowner, this means their annual property tax bill will be about $276 higher.
In addition to taxpayer dollars, CapMetro will still need to seek an additional $3.15 billion in funding—45% of the total budget—from the federal government.
More drone footage here:
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Samsung might soon be making more moves in the Austin metro.
The tech giant, which made waves as it announced plans to build a $17 billion chip plant in Taylor in late 2021, might be looking to expand in the Northeast Austin area, according to an Austin Business Journal report.
ABJ said the South Korean company is seeking more tax breaks from nearby Taylor and Manor school districts. The company filed documents requesting Chapter 313 incentives related to the breaks Saturday, and ABJ said each district will review the requests separately on Tuesday.
"While we do not have specific plans to build at this time, the Chapter 313 application process is part of our long-term planning to evaluate the viability of potentially building additional fabrication plants in the U.S.," Samsung Austin Semiconductor LLC.'s director of communications, Michele Glaze, told the ABJ.
But Samsung has made headlines for more than just the $17 billion plant: In early 2022, the company caught heat for two separate spills of millions of gallons of wastewater into tributaries near its semiconductor plant.
While no expansion is promised, ABJ speculates that expansions could occur at the 1,200 acre planned Taylor factory or near the chipmaking factory on Austin's East Parmer Lane. Both expansions could bring even more revenue and job opportunities to Samsung's Texas home.
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A first minute error gave Austin FC an early setback, but with the help of two red cards and two second-half goals, the Verde and Black still forced a last-minute tie in a messy home battle against Orlando City SC Sunday night.
With the 2-2 draw, Austin dropped from No. 1 in the MLS West conference but still earned a point in the standings thanks to a penalty kick goal from Sebastian Driussi and a breakthrough shot from striker Moussa Djitte, who scored his first goal with the club in the final minute of play.
Here are the top three takeaways from the match:
A fateful mistake
Just days after his highlight reel-worthy LAFC performance, Austin keeper Brad Stuver scratched heads as he gave away a goal seconds into the game. Stuver's fateful pass went straight to Orlando's Junior Urco, who was already in the box and tapped a quick pass to Ercan Kara to score the first goal of the match.
The mistake forced Austin to chase a tie for the rest of the match, especially as center back Ruben Gabrielsen benched himself in the 20th minute. The team later said Gabrielsen has come down with something similar to a stomach bug.
Orlando would score two minutes later, and Austin FC left the first half looking like the opposite of its "Best in the MLS" self from just days prior.
The two red cards
By the 60th minute of the match, however, the tides had turned. Orlando's Rodrigo Schlegel, who had already racked up a yellow card on a handball, was ousted from the game two minutes later for yet another handball, this time in the penalty box.
Austin's main man Sebastian Driussi took the kick and sent it in for his eighth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
And just over five minutes later, Orlando's Cesar Araujo was the second man in purple kicked out of the match after he kicked Alex Ring on a slide tackle near the box. Austin was left with just over 20 minutes, and just nine opponents left, to try and tie it up.
The 'Mouss' is loose!
As the whistle blew and regulation time ran out, Orlando seemed to have won the match. The team had withstood many, many close calls—including two shots off the post from Austin FC's Diego Fagundez and Maxi Urruti—as Austin FC flooded the box with 22 cracks at a goal.
But thanks to the chaotic nature of the game, Austin FC was given nine extra minutes to tie it up. Moussa Djitte was the one who finally broke through five minutes into stoppage time, earning his first goal in Verde to put a 2-2 cap on the wild home match.
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