Transportation Talk

Potential subway system sparks further discussion among local leaders

Potential subway system sparks further discussion among local leaders

KVUE — Most Austinites heard talk about the potential for a subway during the city's 2015 economic forecast hosted by Angelos Angelou, a renowned economist. CultureMap's reporting partners at KVUE have learned that there is more than just talk behind the subway idea.

Investors, new city leaders and other stakeholders are working closely with Tyson Tuttle, an electrical engineer and CEO of Silicon Labs, about a subway design that could work here.

Tuttle, who travels the world, says he's paid close attention to subway systems in cities like Singapore, London and Munich and he thinks a similar system could work in Austin.

"We have got to have something other than roads or else we are just going to sprawl and really our quality of life is just going to decrease," said Tuttle in an interview with KVUE News on Tuesday. "We're going to be 4 million people here in 25 years and where's everybody going to get around? How are we going to maintain our economic vitality and out productivity? We don't want to be losing hours sitting in MoPac and I-35."

Contrary to what we've heard for years about the impracticality of digging a tunnel through the limestone underneath Austin, Tuttle believes modern technology now allows the process to move quickly. He says it has a lot to do with the limestone, which is much softer than the granite of California.

"The material that you pull is useful to build concrete and we have a lot of places to put it," said Tuttle.

Tuttle says it cost Los Angeles about $600-700 million per mile of subway as opposed to the $150-200 million it would cost here. It could potentially cost $1.5 billion for the first 10-mile starter line.

"Limestone is about half the density of concrete. It's stable. It's soft to dig through. You can dig through it very quickly. With a tunnel boring machine, you can dig about a mile a month [through] one of these tunnels," said Tuttle.

Two rail lines would sit side-by-side about 50-75 feet below the surface of Austin, stretching 20 miles. Tuttle believes the first line could run the same north and south route as Lamar Boulevard or Guadalupe Street.


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Project connect Austin traffic transportation
Tyson Tuttle discusses the potential for an Austin subway system. Courtesy of Project Connect / Facebook