Review of Project Connect

13 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2014

Date Written: May 30, 2014


Project Connect — a planning consortium sponsored by the City of Austin, Capital Metro, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Lone Star Rail — proposes to build a 9.5-mile, high-capacity transit line in Austin from East Riverside & Grove to Austin Community College’s Highland campus. Transit vehicles would follow a dedicated guideway — either rails or an exclusive busway — with trains or buses stopping about every one-half mile. Although buses are being considered as an alternative, it is clear that Project Connect planners already favor rail; as a presentation by Project Connect concludes: “Urban Rail is the appropriate mode to meet system needs.”

There are several problems with this proposal. First, the proposed rail line is not truly high-capacity transit; though Project Connect has failed to admit it, buses can actually move more people than light rail. Second, the line is projected to cost $1.38 billion, but planners have failed to demonstrate the need for an expensive, dedicated guideway system of either bus or rail. In fact, the peak-hour demand projected for the line is well below the capacity of either buses or light rail. Finally, project planners have greatly overestimated the benefits of the proposed line. For example, far from relieving congestion, light rail will make it worse as it will have priority at traffic signals, disrupting the flow of traffic for everyone else.

For much less than the cost of a single fixed-guideway transit line serving a few travelers, Austin can both improve bus service and relieve traffic congestion for all travelers. Traffic signal coordination, staggered bus stops in high-demand areas, increased bus frequencies, double-decker buses on high-demand routes, and the construction of more HOT lanes will smooth traffic flows and provide better transportation for everyone in the Austin area.

Keywords: high-capacity transit, light rail

JEL Classification: R4, R41, R42, L92, O18

Suggested Citation

O'Toole, Randal, Review of Project Connect (May 30, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Randal O'Toole (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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