By Brittany Anderson
KYLE — One of Elon Musk’s companies is planning a project in Kyle that will connect the entire community with an equitable transportation option — no car required.
During the Kyle City Council meeting on May 3, a 6-1 vote approved a professional services agreement with The Boring Company (TBC) to construct a railroad underpass under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks southwest of Kyle Marketplace and FM 1626. Council member Yvonne Flores-Cale was the dissenting vote.
TBC was founded in 2016 by Musk and creates low-cost and fast-to-dig transportation, utility, pedestrian and freight tunnels.
According to the project proposal, the underpass will accommodate multimodal transportation, including electric vehicles (such as golf carts), bicycles and pedestrians. It will also be connected to The Vybe, Kyle’s 80-mile long citywide trail system that is being planned to connect all of the city’s neighborhoods to business, recreation and entertainment destinations.
City Manager Scott Sellers said that the parameters from the tunnel trail are from the Kyle Crossing development on the southwest corner of Marketplace and 1626, and the terminus will be at the cul-de-sac in Plum Creek at the eastern edge of Cromwell. Residents near Cromwell, especially those who have limited modes of transportation, have reportedly been asking for a safe crossing in order to get to commercial spaces.
Additionally, the tunnel will be 12 feet in diameter and the path will be 10 feet wide. It will be well-lit and cameras are planned to be installed for safety, according to Sellers.
“The funding for this project comes out of a development agreement with the developer,” Sellers said. “It’s a $3 million set-aside of private development dollars, so no taxpayer dollars are anticipated to be expended on this project,” adding that while they don’t have the money in hand yet, the developer is also planning to front the $50,000 for the professional services agreement.
The city has also had preliminary discussions with Union Pacific, and while UP has concerns with having the tunnel in its right-of-way and how it might affect its tracks, Sellers said that geotechnical engineering will be performed as part of the professional services agreement, and a proposal will be presented to UP to “hopefully satisfy them that their tracks will not be disturbed.”
The tunnel is also in the Austin Chalk, which has ideal conditions for tunneling and will likely cause minimal or no disruption to the surface development.
A bridge was initially considered, but TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) denied the request, saying it was an unsafe crossing for pedestrians. Additionally, a pedestrian overpass over the railroad was also deemed unsafe, due to electrical lines.
Sellers said that the tunnel proposal council received a month ago when TBC was selected to be the firm to move forward with the design-build contract outlines several items contained within the professional services agreement and what the scope of work will be for the project, and this is not a project that has occurred overnight, but has been worked on for several years.
Council members also listed a few safety concerns, particularly concerning flooding and ensuring that the tunnel is well-monitored. Council members Yvonne Flores-Cale and Michael Tobias also said that they felt the project was not advantageous for east Kyle residents.
“This is benefitting a specific part of town once again,” Tobias said. “You’re getting to the people of Plum Creek and Hometown. The people east of Kyle are again beginning to feel left out when we do these projects. I’m just being the voice of the residents that I deal with on this end.”
Council member Dex Ellison, however, views the project differently.
“The idea with this whole Vybe network is to get people across our city, no matter where you are, to all different kinds of places without having an automobile,” Ellison said. “You can get from an east subdivision in Kyle and get all the way to Heroes Memorial without having to get into a vehicle because of this tunnel … I could certainly understand this [Tobias’] argument if the city was using $3 million of taxpayer funds to pay for this tunnel, but this is a development-funded project … It’s all about equitable modes of transportation. I think this is part of connecting all of it. It just so happens that this one is in the place that it is because of that railroad track.”
Sellers said that a design-build contract will be brought to council next that will have a guaranteed maximum price, at which point the contractor would be obligated to stay at or under that dollar amount. If it is over, council would then be able to vote to halt the project.
The tunnel is expected to be completed in only a few months once construction starts.