We’ve known for some time that changes were on the way for downtown Austin’s MetroRail station. Despite the fact that its existing platform on East Fourth Street opened more than seven years ago, it was always intended as a temporary solution, with a more permanent station to be built later.
Thanks to a $22 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation earmarked specifically for a new downtown station, “later” has very, very slowly become “soon,” with the project supposedly at a 90 percent stage of design as of this month — meaning construction should kick off by 2019, if we’re lucky.
So, what are we being patient for? The above image is the most current rendering for the new downtown station, which will relocate one block east from the existing platform, putting the station directly between the Hilton Austin and the Austin Convention Center.
In fact, the skybridge connecting the two shows up in the rendering, passing over the new station in an apparent attempt to reduce the chances of lost conventioneers wandering into the path of a Red Line train. Below, you’ll find a map with a better overview of how the new station will transform roughly four blocks of downtown between Trinity Street and the I-35 Frontage Road:
An immediate takeaway from this map is the expansion of East Fourth Street’s current rail layout, with its single current track expanding to three parallel sets of rails.
Marcus Guerrero, Capital Metro’s project manager for the station, tells me this triple track system will provide space for up to five trains, substantially increasing downtown’s MetroRail capacity.
Three design options were initially considered for the new station’s platform canopy, as you can see in the image above. But “Pentagonal Parasols,” in addition to being a killer name for my new psychedelic rock band, was apparently the most preferred canopy design according to Capital Metro’s various efforts at soliciting community feedback regarding the station’s look.
At least one board member had some doubts about the validity of that feedback, but I don’t mind the design — you might consider its “broken umbrellas” appearance a spiritual sequel to the odd but striking solar flowers over at Mueller.
Besides, as you can see from the most current rendering of the platform and the above illustrations, the design has been tweaked significantly since the three canopy options were first presented:
Moving right along — at the southern end of the platform near the new end of Neches Street, something called a “Stone Oasis” will bring a landscaped water feature and decorative stone seating to the station:
This doesn’t show up in the rendering, but you can get the idea from the drawings above — it’s basically a fountain, but it looks a bit more natural. This feature connects the platform with the new public plaza space planned where the temporary MetroRail platform is right now, between Brush Square and the convention center.
In addition to further insulating the station from surrounding traffic, the plaza could very well be the first step towards improving Brush Square — the city’s already created near-term and long-term plans for the underused park, but the timeline is up in the air at the moment. Guerrero says Capital Metro envisions a variety of uses for the new plaza space, such as outdoor markets, food trucks, cafe seating, and other event programming.
Alongside trees and lighting, the landscaped areas of the station will include “rain gardens” — also known as bioswales — designed to filter the area’s runoff. You can see the extent of the landscaping in several of the maps and illustrations above. These plans also show improvements to the existing Lance Armstrong Bikeway between Trinity Street and the I-35 Frontage Road, with pavers and guardrails added to improve the cycling experience in the area.
Finally, on the right side of the map, you’ll notice some significant improvements to the pedestrian experience on the north side of East Fourth Street as it passes over Waller Creek, with a new bridge and widened sidewalks highlighted.
Phew, you get all that? Barring any changes late in the game, these plans should reflect the new downtown station fairly accurately. The question, of course, is when we’ll actually get it — the project still has to hit the 100 percent design stage and navigate the city’s permitting process before breaking ground. Guerrero says Capital Metro is planning an open house event presenting these plans to the public, with a tentative date sometime in January. Choo choo!