Officials Focus on Many Small Fixes for I-35
Eliminating traffic jams on I-35 downtown has been a dream for years, and now the wheels are in motion to try to do something about rush hour congestion along the entire stretch of I-35 in Travis County.
“The tail ends are just now getting to their input into what they see for solutions in those areas,” says Karla Villalon with the City of Austin’s Transportation Department. The city and the Texas Department of Transportation are holding open houses to discuss fixes for the stretches of I-35 outside of the area from Ben White Blvd. to Highway 290.
“The big solution to improving I-35 through the Austin region has long been, well we’ll just widen it. The problem is, there’s not a lot of area and land along the I-35 corridor,” says Villaon. “We’ve tried double-decking. That has some limitations and extra costs. And so now we’re looking at what we can do along the existing foot print.”
That’s an approach becoming more popular across the country, according to transportation experts. Cities and states are trying to fix transportation problems but they don’t have as much tax revenue because of the economic downturn. Chris Poe is with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.
So what are the ideas so far for I-35? There are a bunch of them. They include opening up the shoulder of the road for use during rush hour and fixing poorly designed ramps that create bottlenecks.
Another idea: restriping the roads to add an extra lane. That could be a tolled lane that buses could also use. That’s already the plan for the MoPac Expressway. The head of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Mike Heiligenstein thinks it could also work on I-35.
“Think about one bus after another being able to get on I-35 and go from Round Rock, Georgetown, San Marcos, wherever they’re going, and not have to slow down. It would be incredible. It would be an incredible asset for the region,” says Heiligenstein.
The biggest challenge is still coming up with a way to pay for all these ideas. The Texas Department of Transportation is technically responsible for I-35, but there’s some money for it in the city of Austin’s November bond election. Proposition 12 includes about $15 million for I-35 improvements.
If you have an idea of how to improve I-35, public officials are holding an open house tonight to talk about the stretch from William Cannon to the southern edge of Travis County. The meeting is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Buda United Methodist Church.