US real estate

Real estate and transit officials see potential for change in Project Connect plans

Thursday, September 1, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

As planning and early design work for the Project Connect transit plan progresses, with cost increases due to inflation and expanding reach, a Dallas developer recently told real estate executives of Austin that the city had an opportunity to remake transportation policy and serve as a model for other American cities.

At the August breakfast hosted by the Urban Land Institute of Austin, Joseph Pitchford, general manager of development for Crescent Real Estate, said Project Connect’s focus on anti-displacement measures and attempts to include equity considerations in transit-oriented developments along new transit lines attract national attention.

“There is always this fear and worry, are we going to get it right? From the perspective of Dallas, where we are proud of the miles of light rail that we have…we are behind in how those miles have been consolidated for transit-first development,” he said. declared. “And of course we are lagging behind in how those miles have been used for equitable transit-focused development. Here’s a chance for Austin with an incredible investment to get it right.

Progress on the various light rail and bus lines and other components of the voter-approved 2020 transit plan is still in the very early stages, with the city in June approving the first use of part $300 million in anti-displacement funds to buy apartment complexes for low-income residents.

Total costs for the entire transit plan rose during the initial design phase from about $5.8 billion to $10.3 billion, the newly formed Austin Transit Partnership having found that these costs are expected to continue to rise.

Greg Canally, acting executive director of ATP, said cost increases tend to show up early in the design phase, which is when planners can make changes to design plans and construction or financing models to reflect new cost estimates. A major cause of the increase, he said, is the rising cost of real estate needed for rights of way along planned transit lines.

“We are in a very good position at the moment. When we face these cost issues, we are in a part of the project which is the development phase of the project, and we have been able to bring together experts from all over the country to tell us and make sure that the time to go through the research to all the data and the planning to do the technical and financial reviews is now,” he said. “Things are now at a point where we are going back and reviewing the work done and updating the implementation plan by looking at more ground level solutions where we currently have basement. And where we have basement, can we consider simpler options.

Canally said ATP recently contracted experienced right-of-way acquisition consultants to help advise stakeholders on the best way forward. Other ongoing projects include work on utilities and researching which vehicles and mobility systems will best fit various parts of the overall system.

Another Project Connect priority will be to ensure equity considerations are included in upcoming transit-oriented development plans led by city approvals.

Annick Beaudet, the city’s mobility officer, said the recent emphasis and shift to fair TODs will also be reflected in a new TOD policy plan that will come to Council for consideration later this year. .

“What you see now with a fair TOD is a more focused goal of being more people-centric and more results-oriented rather than what needs to be done for the built environment,” she said. . “At the heart of what we do is not to lose sight of what the built environment should look like. We have time to get it right in terms of who we want to serve and to maintain those who are already here.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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