Austin Could Get Roads Without Urban Rail But That Won't Reduce Traffic

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Correction: This post had said the bond would be for $1.4 Billion, it will be $1 Billion and has been corrected.

In November Austin voters will decide whether to fund a $1 billion transportation bond proposal that will include about $400 million for road projects.

Personally as someone lucky enough to still live in central Austin I’d be happy to just remove I-35 altogether between Ben White to 183, but city planners have other ideas.

The picture to the right is what East Ave., now I-35, looked like sometime in the 1950s before it was one of the most congested portions of Interstate in the country.

If approved Austinites will be saddled with about $18 a month in additional property taxes for the $600 million in bonds expected to be matched by federal funds. But, if there is one thing people may like less than taxes its sitting in traffic. That’s why so much focus of the focus on rail has been as a transportation alternative and not something that will “reduce traffic.”

Right now Austin is seeing about 100 new residents a day and if they all bring their cars with them we could never build or widen enough roads to accommodate them. The only way to actually avoid the traffic is to not get in it in the first place, that’s why much of the 9 mile proposed route for Urban Rail is in a dedicated lane.

But, for many frustrated commuters that travel the I-35 corridor everyday the good news is there are some improvements that could be made to help maximize traffic flow.

Below is an excerpt from an Aug. 1st Austin Chronicle story that lays out the current proposal:

The remaining $400 million of the bond package would target a variety of road projects, mostly along I-35, but also elsewhere in the city. While “the Council retains the final authority to put anything on the ballot,” Council Member Mike Martinez told the Chronicle, “The platform that we will be working from is the Strategic Mobility Plan.” Here’s a summary of the major road projects included in the plan:• $120 million: Downtown access roadway and Riverside exchange, reconstructing Riverside interchange overpass and improving I-35 ramp access at Riverside Drive.

• $90 million: Oltorf, Stassney, and William Cannon overpass and interchange replacements.

• $81.5 million: SH 71, “direct connectors” to the airport for automobiles, and “track bed, structures, and drainage necessary for a future urban rail extension.”

• $34 million: The U.S. 183/Riverside interchange, constructing “a new grade-separated overpass and interchange,” also in order to remove obstacles to expanding rail to the airport.

• $30 million: The Regional Transportation Management and I-35 Integrated Corridor Management, including, among other things, “a new regional transportation management center, with improved and expanded technologies” aimed at improving the city’s ability to manage the entire regional transportation system and improve traffic flow.

• $44.5 million: Regional Safety and Mobil­ity, Corridor Development and preliminary engineering (including Project Connect next corridor studies), funding corridor studies on “key regional roadways that experience congestion, traffic safety and have multimodal mobility needs,” including Loop 360, RM 620, RM 1826, RM 2222, Parmer Lane, and Lamar Boulevard.

Councilman Martinez also told the Chronicle that there could be changes to the details but because it was unanimously adopted by council in June it served as the “foundation of what we believe are the priorities as it relates to road projects moving forward.” Mayor Leffingwell put it more bluntly, telling the Chronicle there “is no Plan B.”

And about that other option to at least put part of I-35 out of sight? The Texas Department of Transportation is looking into a plan to “Cut and Cap” the interstate from River St. to M’L’K. putting it below the surface for an estimated cost of $550 million. In June Council approved a resolution in support of a National Environmental Policy Act impact study, they also directed the City Manager to conduct and economic impact study.

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard.

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