Leander Station offers alternative transportation options to Liberty Hill residents.
By CHRISTINE BOLAñOS
It is no secret Williamson County is one of the fastest growing places in the country. Liberty Hill, in particular, is caught between its small town charm and its evolution into a sizable community, and is home to many commuters to Austin and other neighboring cities. As such, residents are growing tired of long commute hours, construction delays, and are demanding better transportation options.
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Capital Metro, offers customers bus, para-transit services and a commuter rail system called Capital MetroRail. The rail system offers an alternative transportation option for people without having to drive in heavy Austin traffic themselves.
“We see a significant number of people go to Leander from Liberty Hill and Georgetown just because right now we don’t have service in those cities,” said Sam Sargent, J.D., community involvement coordinator for Capital Metro. “It’s about an 8-mile drive from Liberty Hill into Leander. The fastest way into downtown Austin is 32 miles.”
Leander secured a station because the city has member jurisdiction. Leander, Manor and Austin became members of Capital Metro in 1985.
“And so Leander, since the beginning, has had bus service into Austin,” Sargent explained. “When the MetroRail service was added, that’s when we added the Park and Ride to the station.”
So commuters had the option to take the train during one of its stops that spanned the morning hours from late into the 5 o’clock hour until late into the 8 o’clock hour. Then customers had the option to take afternoon and evening rides back into town.
The last train from downtown Austin gets back into Leander around 7:30 p.m.
“If you were to be needing to come to Austin in the middle of the day or the trains were full, we have three express bus lanes that operate out of Leander,” Sargent said. “So there’s a good number of options for folks looking to get into Austin. Some of the express buses are more direct and head straight into the UT or downtown areas. Others make it into northern Austin and Seton Hospital.”
MetroRail has six morning departures from Leander Station into downtown Austin from 5:55-8:40 a.m. From the downtown station, there are six northbound departures to Leander Station between 3:45-6:30 p.m. On Friday nights, there are six more trips in each direction between 6:20 p.m. and 1:20 a.m.
“This is a great service for residents wanting to enjoy downtown Austin nightlife,” Sargent said. “At the moment, there is not Saturday service into Austin from Leander Station.”
Routes 983, 985 and 987 are Capital Metro Express bus service into downtown Austin. The red and silver buses, along with MetroRail vehicles, have free wireless Internet connection, as well as bicycle storage.
Sargent is aware of the growth central Texas, and particularly Liberty Hill, has experienced. “Liberty Hill has grown enormously,” Sargent said. “I grew up in Austin. I remember when I was a kid we would take the Austin Steam Train. They operate on the tracks that go through Liberty Hill. Liberty Hill was very small back then.”
He said that when member cities joined Capital Metro in 1985 they did so because they could picture their commuters utilizing the resource. Liberty Hill still felt too far from Austin at the time and had a small population.
Sargent said this does not mean Capital Metro does not want to extend services out to other central Texas communities like Liberty Hill. He said cities such as Pflugerville have commissioned a transit development plan from Capital Metro to look at options. Other cities that have done this include Hutto, Georgetown and Buda.
“In the future what we could do with a city like Liberty Hill is our staff would work with city staff to develop a transit plan that everyone from our planners to the town’s city council to the city manager thinks would be a good idea,” Sargent said.
He said Pflugerville and Hutto are the farthest along in their plans. But, he emphasized, the transit development plan is just that, a plan.
“The city would need to come up with a funding source,” Sargent said.
“In Buda, Hutto and Pflugerville, for instance, we’ll hold a series of open houses,” Sargent said. “If there’s funding we may bring outside consultants. We work with community members as well as local government to create a series of events where we lay out some maps and look at what are some areas that need service and what type of service.
“Some communities may want a lot of sort of direct connections into downtown but others may need something more like a community shuttle,”
Sargent added. “It’s a nice chance to access what the city needs. Maybe it’s a bus straight into downtown. Maybe it’s a station.”
He believes as Liberty Hill continues to grow so will the number of commuters looking for alternative transportation options.
“With people moving to cities like Liberty Hill they already have kind of a familiarity with Capital Metro,” Sargent explained. “With traffic on 183 being so awful Metro Rail is the only way to get into downtown where you won’t be in traffic. For today’s purposes, Leander is really the gateway to Liberty Hill residents for Capital Metro system.”
Liberty Hill residents have CARTS and Rideshare service options to consider as well.
“They can use an SUV or van service depending on the size of the group,” Sargent said.
Rideshare is a carpool option for commuters, many of whom work in Austin. They share the vehicle, fuel and insurance costs.
“It’s a really popular program. We see state workers from San Antonio and Killeen who use it,” Sargent said. “Even though gas is cheap it really does help save money. If you live in Liberty Hill, it also includes toll costs, so you could take 183A and save yourself time there.”
He said the Rideshare service requires that participants have a destination that is within the city limits of Austin, Leander, Manor, Lago Vista or Jonestown.
“Rideshare is a perfect option for Liberty Hill residents who are heading to the same office or general area,” Sargent said.
Participating groups can range from 7-12 people. Cost of the vehicle is partially subsidized by Capital Metro, and includes insurance, maintenance, 24-hour roadside assistance and a fuel-purchasing program. The monthly cost is divided between the Rideshare group. For more information, see www.capmetro.org/rideshare.
In terms of CARTS service to Liberty Hill, Sargent said there are Green Route buses that operate between Marble Falls and downtown Austin, via Burnet, Bertram and Liberty Hill. The service runs on Tuesday and Thursday, departing from Liberty Hill at 8:05 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. Return trips drop passengers back off in Liberty Hill at 10:35 a.m. and 4:35 p.m.
On a larger scale, Capital Metro is working on its Project Connect study, to design and implement a high-capacity transit system for Central Texas.
“That would include finding ways to work with cities that are not currently members of Capital Metro,” Sargent said. “The vision of Project Connect is to really link these communities and focus on the north. We really want to find efficient ways to connect those communities and tie them into Metro Rail downtown.”
He reiterated that Capital Metro wants to expand services from Leander Station in the coming years.
“Capital Metro will be adding four MetroRail vehicles thanks to a Texas Department of Transportation grant in 2018 that will give us the flexibility to run more frequently and serve Leander on Saturdays,” Sargent said. “The addition of managed toll lanes on MoPac and 183 will benefit our Express bus services. Capital Metro is allowed to operate in these lanes for free and we expect to see a significant decrease in trip times from Leander to downtown Austin, the Capitol complex and the University of Texas.”