Transportation is a hot topic in Austin, and if you have ever tried to drive somewhere during rush hour you will understand why. Despite the many things we love about our city, Austin has one of the longest commute times in the state1, and the stretch of IH-35 that runs through downtown was ranked the 3rd most congested road in Texas.2
Because of this issue, a mix of public and private entities have begun taking steps to alleviate some of Austin’s transportation concerns. In this article, we will cover some of these proposed solutions, including:
- Planned improvements to Austin’s road network
- CapMetro’s public transportation projects
Planned Improvements to Austin’s Road Network
Since 2016, the City of Austin has raised $880 million in bonds for the purpose of improving transportation infrastructure.3 Through these bonds, the City hopes to make travel on Austin’s vast network of roads safer and faster and improve sidewalks and bike lanes for those who opt to not use a car on their commute.
2016 Mobility Bond
At $720 million, the mobility bond approved by Austin voters in 2016 was the largest transportation bond in the city’s history. The bond is intended to be spent over 8 years on numerous projects throughout the city and is comprised of three categories:
- Regional Mobility
- Corridor Mobility
- Local Mobility
The Regional Mobility aspects of the bond are focused on northwest Austin, encompassing road sections like the Loop 360 bridge and the intersection of RR 620 and RR 2222.
As the population center of Austin continues to move in this direction4, the hope is to address areas where traffic is likely to occur during peak hours.
Most of these projects will not begin construction until at least 2021.
Corridor Mobility, given the most funding of the three categories at $482 million, involves improvements to some of the most well known roads in Austin, including Guadalupe Street, North and South Lamar Boulevard and South Congress.
These streets see some of the heaviest use by vehicles, public transportation and pedestrians alike, so improving them will be an important step towards making travel easier and safer for all Austinites.
The majority of these projects are still in the proposed stage with no estimated completion date.
Local Mobility encompasses travel within neighborhoods and areas surrounding schools.
Almost entirely comprised of sidewalk and intersection improvements, these projects are intended to provide parents and students safer routes to and from school.
A number of these projects have already been completed or are currently under construction, with the rest not far behind.
2018 Bond – Proposition G
In November 2018, Austin voters approved a $160 million bond to further address transportation issues within Austin.
Similar to the 2016 bond, Proposition G outlines a number of project categories, primarily focusing on roads, sidewalks and traffic signals (I personally have my fingers crossed that it will finally be possible to make it down Lamar without hitting every single red light).
The bond also allocates funding to improvements for urban trails, again reflecting Austin’s focus on providing safe and effective alternatives to travel by car.
Changes to the IH-35 Corridor
Anyone who lives in Austin knows how inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous, the traffic on IH-35 can be. The stretch of the interstate that runs through Austin averages speeds of just 20 MPH during peak usage and wastes 1.3 million hours of commuter time annually.5
However, Austinites are not the only cause of the traffic. Running from Laredo, Texas to Duluth, Minnesota, IH-35 is one of the most heavily utilized routes for commerce in the country. Traffic passing through Austin on its way to other destinations is as much to blame for delays as traffic from Austin itself.
In hopes to improve this issue, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has made plans to help alleviate some of the congestion. The project, known as Capital Express, was announced in 2017 and is currently still in the process of gathering public input. An environmental study and preliminary designs are expected to be completed in 2019.6
While no designs have been completed, the basic idea is simple — adding more lanes, with some catered towards through traffic, will hopefully alleviate a portion of Austin’s traffic concerns. The possibility of building more lanes underneath existing lanes, similar to the idea set forward by Reconnect Austin, has even been raised, but only time will tell what the future for IH-35 will look like.
CapMetro’s Public Transportation Projects
Austin’s public transportation network will also undergo changes in the near future, an innovation spearheaded by CapMetro. Through a number of projects, most notably Connections 2025 and Project Connect, CapMetro plans to completely revamp its network and create a faster, more reliable system.
Connection 2025 began in 2015 as a 15-month study of the current public transportation system to look for areas the system could be improved.7 Now complete, the study provided CapMetro with insight into what the public’s major concerns and complaints are about the system and how those issues can be addressed in the near future.
CapMetro began implementing changes as early as 2017, including eliminating the Premium fare and increasing the frequency of MetroRapid, both of which have been completed successfully. Additional improvements are scheduled to roll out gradually through at least 2023.
Similarly, Project Connect is also geared towards improving the public transportation network in and around Austin, with a focus on preparing for future technologies and innovations.
From transforming Austin’s public transportation into a fully electric system to testing autonomous transit options, Project Connect is paving the way for the future of public transportation in Austin.
While transportation in Austin today can be a major pain point for commuters, it is comforting to know that so many parties are working towards solutions for the near and long-term. Through cooperation between the City of Austin, CapMetro, TxDOT and Austinites themselves, the future of transportation in Austin is looking bright.
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2 Texas A&M Transportation Institute
3 City of Austin
4 City of Austin – Department of Planning
5 Texas A&M Transportation Institute
6 TxDOT Capital Express Fact Sheet