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Monday, April 20, 2009

Austin, Tx Roadway Rant!

This was written by my little brother, who is currently 19 yrs old. He has always shown an affinity for transportation issues! ;)

Lately, I've been obsessing over the future of transportation in Austin. Consider this: At present the city has, by all accounts, the worst traffic in the world per capita - and the population is booming. The 2007 census estimate for the city limit is 743,074, the 2000 census pegged the urban area at 901,920 (they don't do yearly estimates for this stat. It has probably grown to about 1.2 million since 2000), and the 2008 estimate for the metropolitan area is 1,652,602! If the current rate of growth is sustained, by the year 2015 the urban area alone will have surpassed 1.5 million, with an additional half million within the metropolitan area (the large discrepancy is due to the two satellite cities, San Marcos and Georgetown) - a total of around 2 million. By 2020 the population is speculated to have boomed to 3 million - all of it substantially urbanized! Larger that current San Antonio, and larger than projected 2020 San Antonio.

TxDot has already tried easing the congestion on 35 by creating a bypass route to the east: State Highway 130. It ties in the the interstate system just north of Georgetown, but the current southern terminus empties onto desolate US 183 with future plans for it to extend to Interstate 10 in Seguin. This route is also connected in two different places to 35 by SH 45: Round Rock and southern Austin. The problem with this is that it's fucking tolled. Nobody is going to be taking this route when they can just as easily get free access to San Antonio through 35 (which is becoming increasingly congested - I know this because I drive it every weekend).

In the past there have been many proposed freeways that had the potential to relieve a lot of the traffic Austin sees today. 2222 was proposed as a toll road twice before, the first plan in the late sixties the first plan in the late sixties called for a tolled road which spanned from 35 to Lamar. After being canceled in the early seventies, it was proposed a second time as part of a much more ambitious plan. The second option called for a freeway from 35 which had a western terminus at 620. Both times the freeway was not canceled due to lack of funding, not canceled due to lack of right of way, but canceled due to voter outrage.

The first plan was proposed as part of a series of freeways. The others in this series included Lamar (with which the 2222 freeway would have merged) from downtown extending north until 183, 35th would have been reworked as a small freeway from MoPac to Lamar, Enfield and 15th would have constituted a single freeway traveling east from MoPac until Springfield. There the freeway would turned north aligning to Springfield presumably until 183. The final proposed expressway of the late sixties was an amalgamation of Cesar Chavez and Riverside. From MoPac until Trinity Cesar Chavez would have been constructed as a small freeway from which a bridge would emerge to span the Colorado and connect to a similarly small freeway where Riverside exists today. That freeway would continue east of 35 until Pleasant Valley. Presumably these freeways would have since been lengthened and limitedly expanded. For instance, I can imagine that the Riverside freeway would have easily been commissioned to end with an expansive overpass system at the intersection of 183 and 71. Unfortunately, all of these ideas were scrapped due to voter outrage in the early seventies.

Another idea was 360. This limitedly succeeded. Today there are small sections which are free of stoplights and have high speed limits. Also, a large enough right of way exists for this road to be expanded to a six lane freeway. Although the plans exist, there has been no initiative and there is a lack of funding. Freeway sections could only be accommodated south of 183 and the Pennybacker Bridge would have to be re-lined (it does have the capacity for three lanes in each direction, but only without the shoulders currently present on the exterior margin).

The freeway sections of highways 290 and 71 need to be lengthened on the west side of town in order to cut down on congestion. These would be short expansions of the highway. The combined highway needs to all be revamped as freeway (a paltry 1 mile) and 290 should only extend to Fitzhugh Road (a 5 mile stretch of road). This should take the freeway just past the last remnants of population center which should negate bottlenecking at the western terminus that is presently an issue. The freeway section of 71 should extend to a terminus located somewhere between the intersections with 620 and Hamilton Pool Road. The variation in terminus here would give somewhere between 7 to 8 new miles of freeway in a soon to be developed area of land.

Another current plan allows for the extension of 71 on the eastern side of town. The new terminus would be tolled 130. This plan is relatively easily accomplished. The only traffic intersection currently maintained are Riverside, Thornberry, and the two offshoots of FM 973. With the demolition of the current structures on the north side of the freeway (across from the Airport) - which could all easily be labeled unfit for inhabitation - a westbound access road would easily fit. This construction would also mark a 5 mile increase in freeway length.

Excepting lights at Loyola, 51st Street, Techni Center Drive, Vargas Road, and Thompson Lane, there is only a need to build access roads to erase direct access from side roads to make this a fully functioning freeway the entire length north of Highway 71 - a 7 mile stretch. The need also exists to create a freeway along 290 north past 183 with a terminus at the 130. With only a few lights and a massive right of way, the logistics of this 5 mile length are simple. At the intersection of these two highways would be a need for a full five level interchange. There also exists a need to finish MoPac. Austin needs to extend freeway down the two mile stretch to the terminus at 45. Upon the completion of this, there will also be the need to complete 45 and connect it, WITHOUT toll, to the southeastern section of the same highway which terminates at 35.

Now, for the truly outrageous ideas. There exists a need for two to three new east-west freeways in the Austin area. Austin truly is a mainly north south transport city with few east-west freeways. The only true east-west highway is 290/71 in the south; even 183 is more of a north-south thoroughfare when taken in context with the metro area. Development of the area within the confines of Parmer, 130, and Dessau will require a new freeway connecting the area to MoPac and 35. I propose that Parmer, not just this length, but the entirety of the road (at least until a northern terminus at 1431), be converted into a freeway. Two molds exist for this concept: on the sections outside MoPac and 35 the road should be fully converted into freeway with full access roads and the like (this should be easy as the right of way for Parmer is tremendous in both areas), and the section within the two preexisting freeways be developed similar to the corresponding length of 183. The total cost of such a project would be similar to the total freeway costs of 183, which was around 200 million.

The also exists a need for a short freeway on 2222 between 360 and 620. Residents of lakeside communities currently have to drive on a congested divided signaled highway on the way to work in the morning, creating this new freeway would allow these commuters to travel in on a 2222 freeway which would merge with either southbound or north bound freeway 360 (whichever posed the greater need and expediency - in regard to such commuter travel).

The final major burgeoning area of Austin's metropolitan is Round Rock, but not on the eastern side of the interstate. The developing area is between 183 and 35 just north of 45. Unfortunately, the area is centered around 1431 instead of the toll road. There is ample room for a freeway to be aligned with 1431 from the tolled 183A to 35 with flyovers present at those and Parmer (by then hopefully a freeway).

The need for a east-west freeway is at its highest in downtown Austin where all traffic from MoPac eastward is forced to drive through residential area to get the the central business district. For this I'm at a loss... Cesar Chavez won't work, Barton Spring goes through an environmentally sensitive area, forget extensions of Riverside (though a freeway east of 35 until 71 isn't out of the question - by then the area may need it to relieve congestion on both 183 and 71)...

By 2020 the population will have doubled, but our roads will have only increased (if all these additions - or equivalents - are produced) by around 1.5 percent. Our congestion will be even worse still at that point simply because we would still only have three primary routes: 35, 183, and MoPac.

His blog is here at Fish and Chips!