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My tour of Cap Metro's commuter station sites

Okay, Cap Metro won their referendum on commuter rail and it's time for me to stop whining for a little while. Maybe they'll actually make the thing work. But that doesn't mean there's nothing interesting to say about it any more.

One day last week I gassed up the car and took a little tour of the nine planned locations for commuter rail stations. I couldn't find any detailed documents on Cap Metro's website so I had to work with the rough map they presented to the voters. But as far off as I'm sure some of these guesses must be, at least now I have some picture of what parts of town they're planning to connect, rather than just a central-Austinite's idea that the stations are (waves vaguely to the north) out there somewhere. So, if you'll bear with my crude camera skills, here's a little souvenir brochure from my tour.

Cap Metro station map

Station 9: Leander [map]

Cap Metro station site, Leander Cap Metro station site, Leander

The end of the line 25 miles out from central Austin isn't just suburban, it's practically rural. I'm sure that there must be subdivisions all around, but downtown Leander is about as un-dense as you can get. Leander City Hall is on the west side of 183 and the tracks are on the east with plenty of empty land to build a station on. There are also a number of pre-war frame houses with big pecan trees on the east side, looking like they need some love; let's hope they turn into cafes for weary commuters instead of getting bulldozed for parking.

Station 8: Cedar Park [map]

Cap Metro station site, Cedar Park

Cedar Park, on the other hand, is unequivocally suburban. The station is planned for an existing park-and-ride site behind a huge strip shopping center to the southeast of 1431 and 183. The Cedar Park police HQ and a Williamson County court annex are also at hand. But none of it is convenient for pedestrians and you can be sure that most of the people who use this station will get there by car.

Station 7: Howard Lane [map]

Cap Metro station site, Howard Lane

After Cedar Park, riders will enjoy a meandering and (for now, anyway) scenic ride southeast through a big tract of what until recently has been ranchland and limestone quarries. I'm confused by the tangle of roads up there and their multiple names and I mistakenly placed the Cap Metro station at the Wells Branch/Howard/McNeil/Burnet/1325/MoPac intersection, which currently looks like the orcscape at Isengard as the roads all get worked on. But looking more closely at Cap Metro's fuzzy map I think I was off by a mile or so and the station may actually be halfway between MoPac and 183 on the Wells Branch/Howard/McNeil corridor. Oh, well.

Station 6: UT Pickle/Braker Lane [map]

Cap Metro station site, UT Pickle/Braker Lane

At this point I got a little worried that my photography would earn me a tap on the shoulder from Homeland Security, since I had a nice view of a site that's been doing weapons research for 60+ years now. This shot is looking south from the Braker Lane overpass, with the Pickle Center purposely cropped out on the left and MoPac on the right. There's a lot of (potentially flooding) land for a station, and a couple of major employers within energetic walking distance. It will be interesting to see what if anything Metro does to try to connect the station to the Arboretum and other major retail and entertainment developments a half-mile or more away.
Addendum: I messed up on this one, too -- see comments below.

Station 5: Lamar Blvd/Justin Lane [map]

Cap Metro station site, Lamar Blvd/Justin Lane

Here Cap Metro's description of the site gets curious. All their literature refers to the "Lamar Blvd/Justin Lane" station, but the tracks never actually cross Justin Lane. This picture is taken from the traffic island on Lamar looking west, with Justin off to the left and Airport behind on the right. Was the Justin Lane name used because it would sound better to people in Crestview than "Airport and Lamar"? Is the plan to take out the Walker Tire Co. and make the station extend along Lamar from Airport to Justin? Or would it actually be on the north side of the tracks (to the right in this picture), in the Huntsman facility, which has recently been scheduled for closure and possible redevelopment? I don't know, but I get first dibs on the "If it's in stock we've got it!" sign.

Station 4: Highland Mall [map]

Cap Metro station site, Highland Mall

Highland Mall is on the east side of Airport Blvd. and the tracks are on the west, so don't expect to be able to step out of the train into the food court. There's plenty of empty easement for a station, though. The Skyview neighborhood is right there, but fenced off from Airport with no pedestrian access.

Station 3: MLK Blvd. [map]

Cap Metro station site, MLK Blvd.

Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above... The MLK station is supposed to be at the Featherlite Tract, a big piece of east Austin that's had developers salivating and scratching their heads ever since a construction materials company vacated it years ago. If Cap Metro's premise that commuter rail will focus redevelopment is true, this station may be ground zero.

Station 2: Plaza Saltillo [map]

Cap Metro station site, Plaza Saltillo

That's a crummy photo of what would be a pretty place, if it just connected to its surroundings somehow. Plaza Saltillo has been an interesting answer in search of a question ever since it was built. The rail station may finally give it its reason for being there. Except, how many people want to ride from Leander to East 5th Street? Again, though, if it's true that commuter rail spurs redevelopment, I predict mixed-use loft and condo projects as far as the eye can see. Can we get historic status for Cafe Mundi, please?

Station 1: Convention Center [map]

Cap Metro station site, Convention Center Cap Metro station site, Convention Center

And here's where my powers of deduction break down completely. If you follow the railroad tracks the short hop across I-35 to the Convention Center, you end up in a densely built-up part of downtown with nowhere obvious to put a station. These shots are both looking west, from I-35 and Red River, respectively. I can't wait to see what the solution is.

austin 2004.11.17 link