Project Connect expected to wrap initial light rail environmental review next fall

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, Project Connect leaders outlined the next year of project development as the program’s light rail system progresses through federal processes and review.

Greg Canally, Austin Transit Partnership’s executive director, said during a board meeting Wednesday the organization is continuing work on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for the initial phase of light rail. That process is a comprehensive environmental review of the planned work and is required for any project that incorporates federal funding.

For Project Connect’s light rail plan, the NEPA process will evaluate all the potential impacts due to both the construction and operations of the light rail, as well as ways to try and mitigate said impacts. Analysis areas include effects on biological and natural resources, neighborhoods, and socio-economic impacts as well as both cultural and historical ones.

Jennifer Pyne, ATP’s executive vice president of planning, community and federal programs, said ATP will launch a series of public meetings and community engagement events in early 2024 to explain to community members the light rail program’s current status and what’s being evaluated as part of the NEPA process.

In January and February, ATP will highlight items poised to undergo environmental review, as well as gather feedback, input and questions from community members. Between April and June, the organization will host educational and informational outreach events that hone in on the environmental analysis and project development process.

From there, staff will gather feedback that will factor into a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).

Next fall, there will be an opportunity for the public to read and weigh in on the DEIS. ATP officials told KXAN a final EIS and record of decision related to phase one of light rail development is expected to be released in fall 2025.

Outside of the NEPA process, ATP is also working with the Federal Transit Administration to try and secure federal dollars for the light rail system. That process is expected to take roughly two years to finish, ATP officials told KXAN back in September.

“The ways that we can maximize our grant dollars include just designing the project to really enhance ridership, to make sure that we’re providing the best possible transit project for this community,” Pyne said during a September interview.

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